In 2015 Norway will be one of the first countries to operate an offshore oil drilling platform with robots. This type of unmanned platforms will be cheaper and will make it possible to exploit small and medium-sized fields which aren't profitable with conventional manned platforms.
SINTEF scientist Pål Liljebäck is standing in the new NOK 80 million laboratory financed by Norsk Hydro. The lab covers only 30 square metres and lies deep in the basement of one of the Electro buildings on the SINTEF/NTNU campus on Gløshaugen in Trondheim. An orange robot arm hangs from a steel beam that spans the room at ceiling height, framed by large, sky-blue support beams.
At the control panel, Liljebäck has pre-programmed a huge range of rapid movements of the colossus inside the room. The robot arm glides silently back and forward on its beam, suddenly moves out in a wide arc to the left, and then straight towards the scientist, before turning downwards to the floor. Liljebäck says that the framework, traversing crane and robot arm weigh a total of seven and a half tonnes. It would not be a good idea to get too close.
Nor will the petroleum operators find themselves in close contact with the new robots when, if all goes according to plan, they are ready for installation in 2015. The operators will remain on land and control them from there, reducing both risks and costs.
Hydro (now StatoilHydro) has long been focusing on futuristic new technological solutions for extracting oil and gas; among them are robot-operated platforms.
“If we can automate our platforms, we will have an alternative to subsea platforms,” says Anders Røyrøy in StatoilHydro. “Both technologies are aimed at small and medium-sized field which are not exploited today because it is not profitable to use normal manned platforms. An automated platform doesn't need personnel, and therefore neither does it need fire systems, sound insulation, catering or a whole range of other installations. Automated platforms also have another advantage: whereas subsea systems statistically only manage to recover about 45 percent of the oil or gas in a reservoir, a topside platform can take out almost 55 percent. And then, maintenance at the surface is much simpler."