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Improved Deepwater Prospects Push Subsea Spending Up

With prospects rapidly improving to produce and transport oil and natural gas from the deepwater, energy companies are expected to spend between $3.4-5 billion on subsea processing systems worldwide between now and 2015, according to a joint study conducted by energy analysts Douglas-Westwood Ltd. and technology specialists OTM Consulting.

The "Subsea Processing Gamechanger Report" examines the commercial prospects for technologies that show early potential to make a major impact on the oil and gas industry. The 140-page report describes what is driving the interest in subsea exploration and production.

"If operators' performance expectations are met, then over the next decade, expenditure on subsea processing could in our 'most likely' scenario amount to over $3.4 billion" and as much as $5 billion, said Steve Robertson, manager of Oil & Gas at Douglas-Westwood.

Subsea processing includes a suite of technologies to accelerate production and boost reserves. Reliable and cost-effective subsea production systems are considered key to developing offshore fields in deepwater and harsh environments. Improved technology not only enables recovery of new oil and gas fields, but it also has become an important tool in developing mature offshore fields.

"With oil prices having risen dramatically, the drivers for subsea processing have changed," said OTM senior consultant George Trowbridge. In the past, he said, "the drivers that have encouraged interest in this area have been evenly spread between certain technical, production and financial factors." Today, however, "production-related drivers (increased production rate, increased ultimate recovery, etc.) are now seen as being much more important."

According to London-based Douglas-Westwood, most of the money on subsea systems will be spent in the next decade in Western Europe, with average capital expenditures of $1.1 billion, followed by Africa at $788 million, Latin America at $594 million, and North America at $576 million. The report noted a total of 131 seabed boosting applications are expected to account for 54% of the 10-year total, along with 28 forecast separation systems 1,005 multiphase meters and 15 wet gas compressors.

Oil and gas companies' perceptions of the barriers preventing subsea processing also have changed. Psychological hurdles, e.g., the naturally risk-averse nature of producers, and financial hurdles, e.g. capital costs, "are still high on the list of barriers to the uptake of subsea processing," but Trowbridge noted, "there has been a shift in operator opinions so that now equipment reliability and operability are now seen as the highest ranked barriers."

Changes in the drivers of and barriers to subsea processing are reflected in earlier technology forecasts by Douglas-Westwood. In its 2000 and 2003 surveys, several fields were identified as possible sites for subsea processing. In the latest survey, however, several producers have "firm plans" for subsea systems, "with potential areas of application spanning all the major deepwater regions of the world."

For more information on the report, visit www.dw-1.com www.dw-1.com.

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