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Breathing new life into Total's ABK mature field

As Abu Al Bukhoosh (ABK), one of Abu Dhabi’s producing fields, moves into its mature phase, selecting the right technology and employing the right people locally is proving key to its success, says Amer Al Shaikh Ali, general manager of Total Abu Al Bukhoosh

When the Total Abu Al Bukhoosh (Total ABK) joint venture was created in Abu Dhabi in 1972, it marked Total’s debut as a field operator in the Gulf region. While oil production from ABK may be modest compared to some other fields in Abu Dhabi, its longevity and its complexity mean the field is still one of Total’s most important upstream developments in the region.

Since production start-up in 1974, the field has produced an impressive percentage of the field’s oil-in-place. Now our engineers are pioneering techniques in mature field management to prolong its life that will be used as a benchmark for other giant fields in the Middle East over coming decades. Total ABK holds a 75% stake in the field, while Inpex of Japan holds the other 25%.

It is a tough challenge to operate 40-year-old facilities while constantly meeting today’s demanding technical and health, safety and environmental (HSE) standards. What is achieved at ABK is a reflection of Total’s style and quality of operations, its training of Emirati engineers and its use of technology to maximise oil recovery. In fact, the field’s recovery factors – reaching up to 55% in some reservoirs – are the highest in the region.

In order to maximise ABK’s production, Total ABK has been pursuing a two-pronged strategy based on reservoir management and enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technologies on one hand, and innovative thinking on the other.

Total ABK focuses on ensuring that reservoir management is as thorough as it can be and that continuous drilling is effective. Crucial to this have been new technologies that allow oil to flow smoothly, despite the high water content. Total is the only operator using full-field gas lift in Abu Dhabi, and we have also gone one step further, with the first application in Abu Dhabi of dual electrical submersible pumps. That means that if one pump breaks, the spare can be used.

As the platforms are running out of slots to accommodate new drilling, Total ABK has introduced splitter well-heads, enabling two wells to be drilled from one slot – this technology is new to Abu Dhabi. It allows engineers to target small pockets of oil that could never be produced as stand-alone reserves.

In addition, these wells can be separately produced and gas-lifted. They also contain "sliding sleeve" technology that enables layers that produce too much water to be shut off. Total ABK has been a pioneer of multilateral well technology for 15 years, with 34 such wells having been drilled.

Total’s approach to reservoir management is complemented by the implementation of EOR techniques to extract additional oil that conventional methods cannot recover. Our tertiary gas injection, used since 1991, is the only full-field EOR in Abu Dhabi and has been responsible for 28% of production from this reservoir over the past 20 years.

We are now developing chemical EOR by mobilising the company’s technical and research skills. Total’s research and development arm has developed a formula that extends the application of surfactants and polymers to the hot, saline carbonate reservoirs of Abu Dhabi. The potential for additional reserves is even higher in big fields.

Total’s worldwide experience has proved crucial to these advances. Developments at the deep-water Dalia field off-shore Angola provided the foundation in this case. This intensive drilling programme and enhanced recovery provides world-class recovery efficiency. There is a lot of technology and innovation that Total ABK’s would be willing to share that could be applied in larger, less mature fields elsewhere in the Emirates.

The second part of our strategy is to minimise costs through innovative thinking. For example, to replace flare tips by barge – the conventional method – would have taken 20 to 30 days, during which the field would have been shut down. Instead, we brought a helicopter from Norway, 30 hours away, specifically to do this one job. The helicopter arrived at 8:00am and took six hours to complete the task – the pilots had their lunch and then left. This is less than half the cost of using a barge with minimum field shutdown time.

Another innovative solution was repairing the gas slug-catchers, which were suffering from internal corrosion and pitting. Replacing these huge slug-catchers would cost around $30 million and result in a six-month interruption to gas exports. Instead, we developed a technology to repair the vessels and spray them with metal resistant to corrosion, which cost around $3 million. This in situ technology had never been used in Abu Dhabi, or offshore anywhere in the world.

Although it is usually thought of as an oilfield, most of ABK’s output is actually gas, which Total ABK produces from the underlying Khuff reservoir on behalf of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. In addition, discussions are continuing to explore the pre-Khuff using high-pressure/high-temperature drilling technology.

Along with the Dolphin pipeline, in which Total has a 24.5% stake, Total ABK plays a major part in meeting fast-growing demand in the UAE and we will continue to make a major contribution to the national economy for years to come. Steering Abu Dhabi’s hydrocarbons industry successfully into the future is dependent on increasing the proportion of Emiratis employed both onshore and offshore, and in management positions. Total ABK is already playing a role in achieving that objective.

Today, half of the management team of Total ABK are United Arab Emirates nationals, including two women. We are also well on our way to achieving our target of 50% Emiratis by the end of 2015. This Emiratisation programme is not just about satisfying targets, but rather a source of competitive advantage. The door is open and the opportunities are there for those who have the willingness to grow in a unique development environment.

Total ABK is already highly diverse culturally, embracing more than 30 nationalities. What we offer is not just experience within Total ABK, but the chance for international assignments, not only to our Paris head-office, but also in our broad spectrum of international ventures. The skills and experience gained in this way is building a new generation of leaders.

To ensure continuing Emiratisation of the offshore workforce and help create employment for non-university graduates, in partnership with ADNOC, Total ABK has also set up the Total ABK-VEDC Academy in association with Abu Dhabi’s Vocational Education Development Centre (VEDC). The aim of the Academy is to develop young UAE nationals to work offshore as operators or maintenance technicians. We are proud to give a second chance to people who could not make it within the normal school system.

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