With well decommissioning costs projected to reach £22 billion over the life of the UKCS basin, there is a drive across the global oil and gas industry to reduce expenditure and lower emissions through new techniques and technology.

OGTC is a driving force behind this mission. Having supported Aubin’s R&D projects for many years, helping to bring our new technology to market, we wanted to gain insights first-hand from this innovative organisation. We are delighted to have interviewed Keith Hogg, Project Manager at OGTC, and in this blog post he shares exciting ideas, knowledge and tips around reducing the cost of well decommissioning plug and abandonment.

Tell us about your role at OGTC, and what you’re striving to achieve for the industry…

“My current role is Project Manager for the Emissions Reduction programme. I look after a portfolio of projects relating to field development, late life, and decommissioning and well integrity, working closely with technology developers and operators to develop, qualify and ultimately commercialise new products. At OGTC the entire team are passionate about developing and deploying technology for an affordable net zero North Sea.

“One of my primary focus areas within OGTC centres around the well plug and abandonment (P&A) space. The unique thing about decommissioning and well P&A, unlike field development, this isn’t an area you can choose to go ahead with - wells do need to be plugged and abandoned, and facilities need to be removed. It will therefore continue to be a rapidly growing area over the next 10 years, particularly in mature basins such as the North Sea, and the drive needs to be firmly on emissions reduction and cost savings.

“With the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) setting a minimum decommissioning cost reduction target of 35%, and the UK government setting an ambition for net zero emissions by 2050, the only viable way of achieving that is through a combination of new technology and operational efficiency - and that is at the heart of the work our team is doing at OGTC. We don’t have the luxury of time to make these savings, so it’s critical we have a healthy pipeline of new technology coming through and hitting the market as quickly as possible.”

What do you believe are the biggest decommissioning challenges being faced right now?

“One of the main areas we would like to focus on, to try and drive cost reduction, is rigless P&A. If you can achieve rigless P&A, you’re not only reducing costs, you’re also reducing your emissions footprint, which is really important in today’s industry.

“However to enable rigless P&A, we require a toolbox of robust technologies, as we won't achieve our industry goals by doing what we've always done, for example section mill, perf wash cement, conventional cement plugs, etc. We need to look at alternative methods, although I believe “conventional” P&A methodology will always have a part to play in addressing the challenges ahead.

“Part of this step change in methodology is looking at alternative barrier materials. We know that cement, although it does have its merits, does have its downsides too. When you’re considering well P&A in perpetuity, it is generally accepted that you will likely have some escape of hydrocarbons to the surface, usually gas, as most materials are permeable to some degree. And when we start considering reuse of reservoirs for carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), which is a growing focus area, cement is possibly not the ideal material, with pressure and temperature cycling, the solubility of CO2 in liquid, resulting in a low pH environment all potentially having a detrimental effect on the well barrier envelope. So in conclusion, looking at alternative materials is really important for the whole P&A space.

“In addition, and essential to alternative barrier P&A methodology, it’s important to look at the whole barrier envelope to give you the assurance and the confidence that the selected barrier is suitable for the individual well integrity status, and this is where verification-type technology comes in.

“The current verification solutions are not suitable for rigless P&A, for instance through-tubing P&A. For this, you need an accurate picture of what’s happening within the rest of the barrier envelope, and the conventional method of pulling tubing to run CBL logs in the production casing is not ideal, as you will require a rig, increase your time on the well, whilst recovering potentially “contaminated” well architecture to surface, all to qualify an annulus barrier that in a majority of cases will be fit for purpose and not require any remediation. The ultimate goal is to have verification tools you can run in tubing, with the capability to log multiple string annulus barriers, enabling planning of ALARP P&A program and selection of the most suitable alternative barrier material, in order to reduce scope, and move you towards achieving significant emissions and cost reductions.

“There is no one size fits all solution, and it’s imperative that the industry has a toolbox with a range of technology readily available - ideally within the next 2-3 years to enable us to make a significant dent in the reduction of scope we’re striving for.”

What new technology is on the horizon, and what are you excited about?

“A lot of alternative barrier materials are being developed, from Aubin’s Xclude product, to thermite technology, bismuth alloys, resins and more. They’re different from one another, but all have the same goal of satisfying, so far as is reasonably practicable, no unplanned escape of fluids from the well, while following industry best practice and the relevant regulator guidelines.

“There has also been a huge leap forward in verification technology, which is very exciting. We are getting closer to good resolution logs from through-tubing logging, which I believe will make a huge difference in rigless P&A moving forward.

“The P&A space is extremely busy at the moment, with lots of technology developers focusing on this growing market, and we’re getting closer to having this ‘toolbox’ of technology I mentioned earlier. However, we still have a lot of work to do…”

What is fundamental to overcoming decommissioning challenges, and achieving the cost reduction target?

“Collaborative working is vital. Our industry can still tend to work in silos, with individual operators reluctant to share information about technology developments. As a collective industry, we need to move these technological advancements forward at pace, and this takes an open collaborative approach at the very minimum.

“OGTC, Spirit Energy, OGA, TLB and more industry organisations, have developed a collaborative model to facilitate this. The approach essentially creates multi-operator working groups, alongside OGTC and technology developers, to enable resource sharing, rapid field trials, and data sharing to effectively progress projects at speed, and reduce the perceived risk of new technology trials and associated cost. There is great progress being made, and we are now starting to see the advantages and benefits of working together.

“We also maybe need a change in mindset when considering novel and new technologies, to overcome the ‘race to be second’ that can hamper technology adoption in the UKCS, and instead embrace new technology and create a culture of taking calculated risks to truly make an impact. We’re still seeing a reluctance across the industry to adopt new technology first, with many companies opting to stick to what they know or wait for numerous run and case histories to be shared. However with the new technology coming through, there are huge opportunities readily available to help with well longevity, lower emissions, and ultimately significantly reduce costs. If we are to achieve a minimum 35% cost reduction by 2030, we need to move faster.”

What tips do you have for those planning decommissioning projects?

“One of my top tips would be to use the resources that are already out there. Reach out to OGTC, OGUK and the Technology Leadership Board (TLB) - we’ll be more than happy to assist where we can. Discover what is happening in the space, and see if there are other suitable technologies for your individual challenges - from well integrity, to rig limitations, or whatever challenge your particular scope of work may face.

“It is a noisy space, so it can be difficult to filter through and identify what you can use right now. We have a case study repository on our website, which is a good reference point, and the Technology Catalogue also has a directory of companies and technologies in the decommissioning realm.

“OGTC also chairs the Alternative Barrier Collaboration forum, in order to promote and share Alternative Barrier Material development, field trial test results, regulatory guidance development and encourages multi-operator support regards field trial opportunity. The Alternative Barrier Collaboration forum also has two separate focus groups with a goal of identifying technology gaps in barrier verification technology and P&A assisting technologies.”

If you have any decommissioning or well P&A questions, you can get in touch with our team via the form below, or head to our decommissioning page to discover our suite of products.