By Danny Constantinis, executive chairman, EM&I Group

THE energy industry is facing a time of unprecedented uncertainty with wild fluctuations in oil and gas prices and the difficulties in steering a safe course through a global pandemic.

Throughout these times we need more than ever to maintain the integrity of our assets and to continue to produce safely while managing cash reserves.

Floating production and drilling have been hard hit too, and while the oil price is predicted to increase steadily through 2020 the need to plan and execute IRM (Inspection, Repair & Maintenance) campaigns within tight budgets and POB constraints, remains a challenge.

In regions such as Australia, where extreme weather often requires floating assets to be disconnectable, the scope of IRM includes a requirement to maintain steerage and propulsion systems ‘fit for purpose’ so that assets can be ready at short notice, to move to a safe location and reconnect when conditions return to normal.

It becomes increasingly difficult to have drydocking planned as part of a safety case strategy with the attendant costs, time off station, and environmental risks of invasive species being transported into other territories. In these cases, the drivers for managing IRM and asset integrity on station are very strong.

Now is an opportune moment in time to bring in new technology that helps address the challenges of managing IRM at reduced cost, POB, environmental and other risks such as divers or personnel working in hazardous areas, at height or in confined spaces.

Digitisation and data analysis is also helping to reduce workscopes safely, so helping to minimise the number and time required for offshore personnel.  We are entering a new era where a few highly trained technicians operating sophisticated robotic equipment will work offshore, remotely connected with onshore specialists, regulators, and class societies to keep assets operating safely and ‘fit for purpose’.

The FPSO Global Research Forum and the HITS (Hull Inspection techniques & strategy) JIP (Joint Industry Projects) have led the way in this respect and shown how oil & gas companies, operators, class societies & service providers can work together, to develop safer and more efficient ways of working.

Robots are already avoiding the need to put people into high risk environments…

Whilst the offshore assets of the future will need to be designed to accommodate robotic, remote, and digital technologies, robots are already reducing the need to put people into high risk environments on existing installations.

The class societies are strongly encouraging and facilitating the means to survey and inspect installations remotely.

Data analysis systems already provide insights which will focus integrity related workscopes.

Together, these methods will enhance safety, reduce costs, improve integrity, and reduce carbon footprint.

A vision of the long-term future? Not at all…. such technology already exists and is being further developed at a fast pace. The current pandemic will further accelerate development as regulators, operators and service companies work to remove obstacles and encourage innovation.

What has been already achieved is making a difference with diverless inspections and repairs becoming the norm.

Various JIPs such as HITS have already established new methods for diverless inspections and maintenance and, as industry stretches the scope, the technology learns and develops to operate in ever more challenging conditions.

For example, 7 years ago the concept of diverless UWILDs was just starting to be developed and rapidly moved from an ROV carrying out visual inspections to where we are today with sea chest cleaning tools, mooring chain measurement and inspection of CP systems in ever harsher sea states.

The idea of being able to carry out a detailed inspection of critical valves, repair caissons, install ICCP systems and replace side shell structures underwater without divers has proven to be a reality on existing assets.