Illustration; Source: Castrol

Castrol: Will hydraulic systems bridge shift to all-electric subsea oil & gas production?

As the business side of things in the offshore sector continues to boom in a bid to meet the growing energy demand, the oil and gas industry is venturing into more complex, deepwater oil and gas fields. As a result, spending on new projects is rising along with the possibility of placing more demands on the value chain. With this at the forefront, the UK-headquartered lubricants player Castrol, part of the BP group, has provided its take on whether hydraulic systems will be thrown out with the all-electric subsea production bathwater.

Illustration; Source: Castrol

Castrol believes that proven hydraulic systems, which have a clear application in an industry looking to rationalize operations and reduce costs, will enable the oil and gas industry to cross over to all-electric subsea production. Currently, many are advocating a solely all-electric future, as this technology has a growing and good track record in key application areas, such as for manifolds and tree function.

According to the UK firm, hydraulic subsea control fluids have an important role in underpinning reliability throughout field life, especially on legacy installed assets that will use hydraulic technology throughout the lifecycle. Over the next five years, the majority of subsea wells are expected to be hydraulically controlled, as these systems are perceived to be reliable, which is one of the priorities when the global economy remains volatile.

Furthermore, the hydraulic subsea equipment will continue to play a role in reliable subsea production and considerations, including control fluids made to underpin subsea production activities in increasingly extreme and remote locations. As hydraulic technologies are anticipated to underpin the oil and gas industry’s transition to electric systems, Alistair Mykura, Castrol’s Subsea and Energy OEM Liaison Manager, has shed more light on the subject of overlooking control fluids in the offshore energy sector.

“We believe the world wants and needs a better and more balanced energy system that delivers secure, affordable, and lower-carbon energy. We’re playing our part by investing in today’s energy system, which is mainly oil and gas – and not or – in our transition and the energy transition. There is considerable commercial pressure on operators today, as they look to meet both the demands from their ongoing operations and their own objectives and external sustainability requirements. Even more so today, operators cannot afford lost production through downtime,” explained Mykura.

Coming to grips with demand growth challenges

Castrol’s Subsea and Energy OEM Liaison Manager elaborated that owners and operators would need to invest in technology, expecting the entire supply chain to follow suit, which would be felt “acutely” in the subsea industry. While pointing out that “R&D continues to flourish, especially in the growth of all-electric system solutions and, perhaps surprisingly, subsea control fluids, the lifeblood of electro-hydraulic multiplexed (EH-Mux) systems,” Mykura explained that field-proven solutions were needed to meet the growing demand without burdensome costs.

Moreover, Castrol’s Subsea and Energy OEM Liaison Manager underlines the importance of not overlooking the technology that is already available and making the most of what works. As the world needs system solutions that offer the highest technology readiness level (TRL) and lowest through-life risk profile, he is convinced that hydraulic subsea production control systems remain the teacher’s pet in the oil and gas industry with only 5% to 10% of the 1,200 christmas trees (XT) forecasted over the next five years expected to be all-electric.

In addition, around 20,000 existing wells are hydraulically operated and will continue to operate for decades to come, demonstrating that there is still “a critical role” for the EH-Mux system to fulfill and perform, even though the all-electric future is “indeed conceivably coming,” highlighted Mykura. He elaborates that hydraulic systems are still “the dominant force” in electrohydraulic subsea production control systems due to the industry being “comparatively slow” at adopting new technology when compared to other industries since such technology poses a risk.

Other reasons for this state of affairs Castrol’s Subsea and Energy OEM Liaison Manager sees in CAPEX and OPEX costs, as through-life total cost exposure needs to be understood and forecasted to ensure developments present “a viable investment.” While this is not truly the case with all-electric systems, he underscores that hydraulics offer “a known reliable solution,” proven through decades of optimization across the lifecycle of the product from the supply chain through to the maintenance requirements.

“All electric offers some hugely attractive benefits when considering long offsets and fast tie-backs. It can also be a step towards decarbonization of [subsea production] operations. Offshore and subsea electrification will help with taking a step towards decarbonizing the industry. In addition, investment into more subsea fluid solutions that meet environmental regulatory compliance continues at pace driven by the continuing evolution of environmental standards such as OSPAR and OCNS requirements for subsea control fluid providers to provide products that demonstrate life performance and ensure no degradation in operational performance,” added Mykura.

Is there room for both hydraulic and all-electric systems?

Castrol’s Subsea and Energy OEM Liaison Manager is adamant that hydraulic and all-electric systems can co-exist, which is expected to be even more visible as the energy transition journey progresses forward since all-electric is anticipated to help with the pivot to a lower-carbon offshore sector by curbing emissions. Mykura notes that lubricant and fluid suppliers play “an indispensable role” in supporting these all-electric systems.

While emphasizing that Castrol is moving forward to innovate in dielectric oil volume for subsea transformers to all-electric subsea connectors, the UK player’s Subsea and Energy OEM Liaison Manager states that this fluid is “vital to protect and ensure the longevity of the latest electrical hardware from water ingress, including pumps, compressors, actuators, and control modules.”

Mykura concluded: “The parallels between cooling for subsea electric trees, as provided to major OEMs and battery EVs will also be essential in making all-electric a scalable reality. There is a lot of dialogue focused on the three pillars that the industry wants to focus on: uptime, reliability of production, and lower-carbon solutions in ensuring responsible environmental operations. As the sector rationalizes operations to reduce costs and boost efficiency, it is looking for proven, trusted solutions and at this time EH-Mux systems often will continue to present a proven viable answer.

“To unlock the true potential of all-electric, the industry must continue the collaborative journey of sustained investment and prove the safety and reliability of these latest technical offerings. To do this effectively it needs to call upon the expertise we have within the sector, which includes the experience and technical capabilities within the Castrol team to support the industry on this journey. As an industry, we should rely on the proven, viable solutions that are commercially feasible and do the job; while we also continue to invest in technology that has the potential to unlock the desired efficiencies.”

With a passion for new technology and product development, Mykura, who is a Mechanical Engineer with over a decade of experience in the oil and gas sector, started his career by developing and implementing equipment reliability and condition monitoring systems across the UK’s fleet of nuclear power stations.