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Pipeline reliability and safety challenges

30 July 2010

A team from the University of Dundee have been awarded two grants totalling almost £300,000 to improve the safety and reliability of ultra-deep water oil and gas extraction.The team, led by Dr Huirong Le from Mechanical Engineering in the University's School of Engineering, Physics and Mathematics have received the funding from the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to optimise the performance and reliability of tubular connections. One of the grants is worth £175,000, while the other is for £

Working in collaboration with Hunting Energy Services (UK) Ltd, a leading supplier of tubular products for well construction and well completion, they will test existing design and coating products and develop future technologies.

As reserves diminish, oil companies are being forced to drill deeper, meaning the need for more robust and universal piping is essential. The KTP grants will see the team examine the friction/anti-galling performance of the pipe connections which plays an important role in the pipeline integrity in deep-water wells.

They will also design a dry compound to permit non-lubricated make-ups to replace the grease conventionally used to enable operations in extreme conditions. The coating must prevent decomposition in harsh corrosive environments such as the North Sea and while in storage for long periods of time.

Dr Le said that new technology to improve the reliability and safety of deep sea drilling would increase in coming years, and that this would lead to significant economic opportunities.
"We are looking at a very specific piece of technology with the potential for help improve the industry in general," he said. "Pipeline safety and reliability refers to the integrity of production string in terms of preventing leaks and making sure they fulfil their potential.

"As such, there is considerable economic and environmental incentive to develop improved technology as we drill in ever-deeper waters and more challenging locations. These might include diverse environments such as the North Sea, Eastern Europe, China or Saudi Arabia.

"We are involved in a number of research activities that help to support the development of deeper water well construction, and this KTP is an excellent example of how industry and academia working together.

"We have been working with Hunting Energy for a few years now. This relationship began with students undertaking undergraduate projects with them, and has now developed into a Knowledge Transfer Partnership as they recognise our research expertise and capabilities as far as developing new technology.

"The first KTP grant will see us developing a lab testing system to make sure the pipe connections hold when under extreme pressure in challenging conditions. The second will involve us developing a new surface coating technology for the products. An automated application process is currently in the design stage. This would allow multiple pipes to be processed within an hour, reducing the manufacturing costs and achieving a high quality application process at the flick of a switch.
"The company are specialists in tubing and develop solutions for important markets around the world. These include developing markets with potentially highly lucrative returns."

The School of Engineering, Physics and Mathematics are involved in a number of other research collaborations. One such project, undertaken with colleagues at the Universities of Aberdeen and Newcastle will be looking into the use of new materials and surface coatings for pipelines in ultra deep water brokered by the National Subsea Research Institute (NRSI) - an academic/industrial network in the Region.

Another KTP grant application for £132,000 has been supported and will see Dr Le's team work David Ritchie (Implements), a leading gas handling equipment manufacturer. The partnership has the potential to make a direct impact on the Company's new joint venture in China and expansion in other parts of the world.

Research funding from Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the industrial collaborators through these KTPs is supporting two research associates and a cohort of PhD, MSc and honour projects, while a new research group in Surface Engineering & Tribology has been established.

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