In 2017, the North Sea lost out on 14.7 million barrels of oil due to asset integrity issues.
That equates to roughly $926m at today’s oil price.
It also offsets progress being made elsewhere on new production and efficiency measures.
But until recently, the issue wasn’t addressed by industry from a cost perspective.
Asset integrity relates to problems that lead to planned or unplanned shutdowns, as well as loss of containment.
Historically, the issue has largely just been looked at from the point of view of safety.
However, in 2017 Steve Gardyne, a vice president at Repsol Sinopec Resources UK (RSRUK), set up the Asset Integrity Task Group (AITG) for the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), sensing there may be a “sweet spot” covering both safety and costs.
He said: “Asset integrity underpins production performance, lower levels of spending and keeping people safe.”
The AITG has the “aspirational” task of cutting containment losses, reducing planned integrity losses by 20% and unplanned losses by 60% by 2025.
Achieving this would significantly reduce lost production, allowing companies to use that revenue elsewhere.
The 14.5m barrel figure came from an industry survey in which companies opened their books for 45 North Sea assets where losses came from asset integrity.
A roadmap was developed on how to tackle the problems and now a range of operators and other groups meet as part of the AITG every quarter, challenging each other on the progress to date.
Those discussions feed up through the OGA to the MER UK forum with chief executive Andy Samuel.
But talk of asset integrity was not always so high on the agenda. In fact it was a lack of focus on the topic in the early days of the MER forum that led to the task group’s creation.
Mr Gardyne said: “The OGA and everybody were quite focused on where the opportunities sat; the new wells, new developments, the tiebacks.
“But actually, probably because I grew up in an environment like this with fairly mature assets, I was reflecting as a senior leader that a lot of my business is actually around driving the integrity and availability of the asset up through good integrity practices.”
He added: “If you’re going to do all the cool new additive stuff, somebody somewhere needs to be grinding out some improvement within the core.
“Getting the core business more healthy and available is one of the fundamental bedrocks you build off.”
The idea first came through meetings with different regulators demanding progress on two different agendas – spending money on safety, but also working to maximise the recovery of oil and gas from offshore assets.
Mr Gardyne continued: “The first time I recognised the possibility that the agenda needed to be broadened was in a stewardship conversation with the guys at the OGA.
“They were quite rightly holding me to account why am I not more aggressively upgrading the rig on Claymore to get to the point of drilling new wells.
“The reality is that at the same time I’m having to replace the draining system on Claymore, I’m also doing 100 repair orders on the asset to try to drive up its asset integrity. I’m also focused on doing a complete refurbishment on one of the separators.”
He added: “What I was trying to do is hold a mirror up to both and say, ‘guys, when you’re sitting where I’m sitting, I need to do both these things and I’d prefer a more holistic conversation that recognises that’.”
The prize is substantial while the goal of dropping unplanned production losses by 60% is “aspirational”.
However the target was not “dreamt up”, it was agreed by the integrity managers in the group based on what they considered achievable.
Data analysis and updated guidance on toolkits and preventing hydrocarbon releases are some of the measures named in the roadmap to reach that target.
Some of the largest strides will be made by using new technologies, namely non-intrusive inspection – where tanks can be inspected from the outside, without costly shutdowns.
That area is being worked on by the Oil and Gas Technology Centre, with RSRUK participating in trials.
Mr Gardyne hopes regular updates on these new technologies via the AITG will make operators less reluctant to try them.
He said: “Sometimes there’s a reluctance to be the first to try something new, but if you’ve been getting quarterly updates on how these things have been progressing, if you feel like you’ve been listened to when you’ve been giving input then the chances are that when it gets to pilot stage or roll-out, you’re going to find wider adoption.”