When it arrives at its offshore home on the Mad Dog field in Green Canyon Block 780 later this year, BP’s Argos floating production unit will be one of the most digitally advanced platforms in the US Gulf of Mexico.

Its journey from drawing board to first oil has had its share of challenges. But Argos has also been an opportunity for BP to transform and modernise its offshore operations.

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The field, discovered in 1998, has been in production since 2005 through the Mad Dog production spar. Continued appraisal drilling in 2009 and 2011 doubled the resource estimate of the Mad Dog field to more than 5 billion barrels of oil equivalent, creating the need for a second platform.

Delivering that platform proved to be more challenging than first expected, when in 2013 the UK supermajor and its project partners, Chevron and BHP Billiton, decided to re-evaluate the Mad Dog Phase 2 project after its initial design proved to be too complex and, with a $20 billion price tag, too costly.

“The team clearly heard the call to do things differently, so back to the drawing board we went,” Ken Nguyen, BP’s principal portfolio manager for Mad Dog Phase 2, tells Upstream. “We had to deliver something that made sense for the company.”

Fundamental change

Nguyen and his team saw the challenge as an opportunity to “fundamentally change the way we worked, and we knew digital technologies were going to be a key part of that”.

Three years spent simplifying and standardising all aspects of the Mad Dog Phase 2 project ultimately led to BP’s greenlighting it at $9 billion, with a semi-submersible platform similar in design to its Atlantis platform selected as the FPU.

Final work on the Argos FPU is under way at Kiewit Offshore Services fabrication yard in Ingleside, Texas, where the 60,000-tonne unit arrived in April after a 16,000-mile (25,750-kilometre) journey from South Korea.

Standing 27 stories high, the Argos FPU at its peak will produce up to 140,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from the Mad Dog field through a subsea production system comprising 22 subsea wells across six drill centres.

The Argos FPU and its production system are as “smart” as they are large, the products of an extensive modernisation and transformation initiative launched in 2016.

The initiative provided the digital team with the tools and techniques necessary to focus on areas where it could add the most value to the project.

“We first had to change the mindset of how people think about a process through disruption, by changing the way a process or task was performed,” Nguyen says.

“We didn’t want to constrain the team’s creativity, but we did want to provide enough guidance to ensure everyone was moving in the same direction.”

To help manage the long list of potential hardware and software solutions for Argos, the team sorted each into one of three categories: ready to use, wait and see, and out of spec.

The process led to the development of what Nguyen calls a "dynamic" digital twin, along with immersive tools to enable visualisation, and automation to handle routine tasks so that “facility staff can focus on higher-value tasks that require a human touch”.

Digital double

Digital twins — visual representations of structures and systems kept updated with real-time data — have been around for several years. BP’s dynamic digital twin, which Nguyen helped invent, for the Argos facility and production system takes a different approach.

“We weren't trying to patent the technology itself, but rather the system to contextualise the data. The system takes all this complex and disparate data and transforms it in a lifelike way,” he says.

There is a complete dynamic digital twin that shows everything from the oil-water contact line in the reservoir, the well path to the top-hole location, subsea trees, and flowlines up to the Argos’ topsides, using real-time data to create that visualisation.

“We don't attempt to solve this big-data problem. We leave this data in place in the system record, pulling and aggregating them in real time to present, in a meaningful way, at that moment in time,” he says.

Nguyen cites as an example the issue of corrosion, a challenge that all companies must monitor and address.

Laser technology

“We exert a lot of energy manually inspecting assemblies for corrosion offshore,” Nguyen says. “But now, because we have the dynamic digital twin in place, we’re using laser scan technology to create a baseline that we can analyse over time to see how it has changed using machine learning. When an area of concern is identified, we can send people out to inspect further.”

He adds: “Once Argos is operational, we can then take this data and make it meaningful for asset integrity management and fatigue management. It fundamentally changes the way that we approach the area. The process is not yet completely vetted, but that’s what we’re going after.”

Helping keep corrosion in check is just one of the many ways in which the dynamic digital twin is transforming operations. Another is through its ability to create visualisations for competency training of the offshore operations team members.

“They can walk around virtually and do the training by putting on the Microsoft HoloLens smart glasses and do the actions that they would normally do to demonstrate competency,” Nguyen says.

“They're able to turn a wrench here or operate something there and the assessor can see if the person is ready to go offshore.

"Fundamentally, it's changed the way we approach the integration of various technologies, such as the digital twin and the use of a mixed reality like the HoloLens. It allows us to be more immersive and to do things onshore and not have to go offshore.”

Moving forward, digital technologies will continue to transform the way companies like BP are designing, building, and operating their assets.