From conservative to radical: Advocating change in P&A operations

ETNs seminar on May 9th drew 90+ participants to explore halving the time, cost, and environmental impact of P&A

Karianne Skjæveland
Communication Manager
May 26, 2023

Around 90 participants from the industry, including operators, people from research and academia, technology providers, service providers, and the  Norwegian authorities gathered to discuss Energy Transition Norway’s joint industry project Go Radical P&A (GRaPA) on May 9th.  

The objective was to identify and discuss potential barriers that are preventing progress toward delivering technical solutions that could halve the cost and environmental footprint related to P&A operations.

Why Go Radical P&A

The GRaPA project is working on the principle that, however the world chooses to transition from non-sustainable to sustainable energy sources, millions of oil and gas wells across the world must be plugged and abandoned.

– Our goal is to deliver alternative technical solutions such that the necessary abandonment work can be performed in the most environmentally responsible way while also attempting to reduce the taxpayers’ burden of the cost of the operations, said project manager Tim Croucher in the opening session.

After 6 months of searching for possible, radical technical solutions to address the challenge of high economic and environmental cost of these plugging operations, the GRaPA project managers argue that a radical change in methodology needs to be prioritized.

NORSOK D-010 Industry Standard

The industry standard for designing and executing P&A operations is called NORSOK D-010. It prescribes that a well should be plugged with a cement plug of at least 30 meters, followed by another 30-meter cement plug, with a final environmental plug at the top.

– The problem with this standard is that no matter how many plugs are used, there is no such thing as zero risk. From a scientific perspective, there will always be a risk associated with P&A operations, said Tim Croucher, who continued to argue that a risk-based approach is more appropriate, as it opens up the opportunity for the development and deployment of new technology that can drive costs down as well as providing a more detailed understanding of well specific risk.

Risk-Based Approach

A risk-based approach would enable using new technology to deliver plugging solutions that would in turn allow the placement of the necessary barriers in a well without the use of a drilling rig.

Having performed the well abandonment design, including the application of new solutions deployable without the use of a rig, the design would be subjected to a rigorous risk assessment process to measure the risk of the well leaking following the P&A operation.

The risk-based approach introduced by the GRaPA project can enable the use of new technologies that will drive down costs while ensuring that the long-term risk of leakage is correctly managed.

-If the associated risk is proven to be within an industry-standard risk acceptance criteria, the well can then be plugged using the more cost-effective solutions, said Tim Croucher.

Industry and authority perspectives

Excellent presentations from DNV and NORCE Norwegian Research Centre provided more clarity on what industry risk-assessment criteria actually implies, followed by a panel discussion with representatives from three major operating companies in Norway: Equinor, TotalEnergies, and Aker BP ASA, discussing how the GRaPA project can drive a step change in future P&A performance.

The panel discussed possible barriers to delivering the Go Radical P&A goals and further discussed the need for an alternative methodology (Risk Based) for P&A design and execution.

Petroleum Safety Authority Norway presented its position regarding the implementation of new technologies, and Clearwell Technology Ltd showcased their radical solution that can significantly reduce the cost, time, and environmental footprint of P&A.

Finally, a group brainstorming exercise was held to explore the attendees’ views on the topic.

When asked what barriers were preventing progress toward the use of smaller footprint surface units or full rigless-P&A, the majority of the respondents suggested that current standards, regulations, conservatism, and risk aversion were the biggest obstacles.

The Energy Transition Norway GRaPA P&A seminar was an excellent event for the industry to relaunch the discussion about how we might solve the problem of expensive, time-consuming, and environmentally unfriendly P&A operations.

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