In water 3000 metres deep, the ocean temperature is as low as 0—3 °C (32-38 °F), while the pressure is 300 bar (4388 psi). Here, we drill through a further 6000 metres of rock to reach the reservoir. How is it possible to produce oil and gas under such conditions? And what is the future of the technology we use to do it?

The oceans of the world are vast and mysterious, yet we depend on them for so much of our resources—including oil and gas.

The deep sea is a truly challenging place where the temperature is close to freezing and for every 10 metres of depth you reach the pressure increases by nearly one bar. It's rarely possible to dive deeper than 250 metres and if you want to go any deeper, submerged operated vehicles—autonomous or remotely operated—become the only options.

Subsea wells access great depths
Faced with such formidable conditions, how do oil and gas companies operate at sea depths of 3,000 metres, and drill depths of 6,000 metres below the surface? The answer is subsea wells that produce hydrocarbons via installations on the seabed. They are making it possible to pursue our quest for resources offshore, longer, further and deeper than ever before.

Today, it's quite possible to develop an offshore oilfield without any rigs visible on the surface at all. And subsea technology is well established—indeed, it's mainstream: half of our production now comes from 500 subsea wells. Subsea wells are changing the concept of offshore oil and gas production.

In the early days we just had a valve on the sea floor. Now there’s almost a complete factory down there.

Rune Mode Ramberg, Chief Engineer Subsea Technology at Statoil

illustrative image of subsea cluster

So what is the future of subsea processing?
Given the complexity of these subsea solutions, you might be surprised to learn that the key to taking subsea processing to the next level is standardisation.

As a result of the extraordinary growth of subsea, costs for installations have increased drastically in the last decade. One of the main reasons for higher costs is due to operators working with suppliers on tailor-made solutions, on a project-by-project basis. Acknowledging this challenge, our industry is now exploring standardisation, which we believe will deliver volume and drive down costs.

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subsea element being transported

The largest structure of the Mariner subsea scope, the pipeline end manifold (PLEM) Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland

Asgard subsea installation Photo: Statoil ASA
subsea cluster

Illustration of subsea factory Photo: Statoil ASA
Picture of the Åsgard Subsea installation

Illustration of subsea installation Photo: Aker Solutions

The largest structure of the Mariner subsea scope, the pipeline end manifold (PLEM) Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland

Asgard subsea installation Photo: Statoil ASA

Illustration of subsea factory Photo: Statoil ASA

Illustration of subsea installation Photo: Aker Solutions

Innovation through standardisation
To understand the importance of standardisation to subsea operations, it helps to think of LEGO. Just like the much-loved coloured bricks, designing modules that fit together is crucial to developing solutions which are applicable across the industry. This LEGO-style approach has been the key to the success of the automotive industry—with car-makers developing standardised models (family, sporty, city) that help them work efficiently with suppliers. Translating this model to subsea will allow suppliers to deliver standardised models to producers.

Industry collaboration
Successfully achieving standardisation will depend on industry collaboration. Currently several joint industry partnerships (JIPs) are underway, bringing oil and gas producers together to focus on various elements of subsea technology, including the interfaces, underwater grid, power solutions and more. The goal of these JIPs is to develop internationally-agreed industry standards.

Collaboration to achieve standardisation is innovation in an uncharacteristic form. Most people think of innovation as limited to small and revolutionary start-ups, or large ‘game-changing’ technologies. However, for subsea, innovation is about ensuring the long-term feasibility of existing technology. In the world of subsea, standardisation is the new innovation.