China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) is moving to digitalise its offshore exploration and development in an effort to lower its offshore operating costs.

The Chinese operator has earmarked 2.4 billion yuan (US$375 million) to spend over the next five years, according to Chen Su, vice president of CNOOC Technology & Information, the department spearheading the company’s digital transformation.

The programme follows earlier moves by CNOOC to establish remote or integrated operation centres across disciplines such as drilling, platform maintenance and reservoir modelling.

The operator has established eight data centres around the world that are connected with its physical servers, virtual machines and storage facilities, CNOOC senior engineer and advisor Wang Tongliang told a recent offshore conference held in China.

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The company also flagged up digital transformation in a recent investors briefing, saying that it "helps improve our core businesses, as new innovative business and operation models are more competitive".

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CNOOC has also been working to modernise data communication through the use of microwaves, fibre-optic and Raman-scattering technology at offshore fields, with increased use of satellites.

According to Wang, the company's fields in northern China's Bohai Bay are 100% covered by microwave technology.

The company plans to further improve management, exploration, production and sales efficiency through three separate cloud computing systems.

The shared information technology infrastructure and services will create a flexible, cost-effective and on-demand information technology environment, Wang said.

As CNOOC maps its path to the cloud, it has built resources such as Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and has expanded its computing capacity by 55%, according to Wang.

Last year, CNOOC modified two platforms in the South China Sea as remotely-operated facilities.

The work on the Ledong 15-1 production platform in the Qingdongnan basin and the Panyu 10-2 platform in the Pearl River Mouth basin increased the number of the company's unmanned offshore platforms to 29 —11.3% of its platform fleet.

Two other South China Sea platforms — Enping 10-2 and Enping 20-5 — are being modified for remote operations, with the Enping oil complex now able to be remotely operated during typhoons, Wang said.

The application of sophisticated digital technologies enables CNOOC and other operators and contractors to access real-time drilling and operation data from anywhere, providing round-the-clock visibility of assets.

Wang said the digital technology helps standardise and simplify operations, as South China Sea exploration and development heads into deeper and more remote waters.

CNOOC has been operating China’s first digital offshore field in the western part of the South China Sea since April this year. The Dongfang gas field complex comprises 10 production platforms connected by subsea pipelines to an onshore gas plant at Dongfang city in Hainan province.

The complex has produced a total of 5.7 billion cubic metres of gas over the past two decades.

The new digitalised production scheme at the complex features an unmanned offshore wellhead platform, an unmanned central processing platform and an onshore production control centre.

CNOOC Hainan deputy manager Tang Guangrong said the digital facilities enable the field complex to be remotely controlled for “single-key" gas distribution — boosting efficiency up to tenfold, according to the company — while also enhancing safety, even under “severe and extreme weather conditions”.

It can also shorten the time taken to resume production after shutdown to 20 minutes, compared to the two hours it took before the introduction of automated facilities, CNOOC said. Robots and real-time monitoring equipment have also been applied to give maintenance and inspection work greater precision and accuracy than traditional manual inspections.

The production control centre also carries out real-time monitoring, early warning for possible accidents, remote control and integrated operations during the entire oil and gas field development and production process, said Tang.

Dongfang operations general manager Cui Rong said: "The production operation centre is the brain of the entire intelligent gas field cluster.

"In terms of safety, it can monitor high-risk operations on site, track the improvement of hidden dangers, monitor various mechanical equipments and implement fault diagnosis.

"When it comes to production, it can analyse and process production data, coordinate [the] production of multiple gas fields."

CNOOC’s digital transformation started in 2019 when then-chairman Yang Hua realised that the company needed to adapt its operating environment to changes brought about by advances in digital technology.

CNOOC's future application of digital technology will also aim to boost reservoir information, increase oil recovery and unlock reserves, as well as improving worksite safety and cost efficiency through unmanned platforms, Yang said in an open letter to employees.

He highlighted heavy oil deposits in Bohai Bay, tight gas in eastern China and South China Sea prospects as areas that could be unlocked with the help of such technology.

CNOOC said it is also increasing its digital training for employees and employing more people skilled in digital technologies.

Smart move in Bohai Bay

In mid-October, CNOOC commissioned its latest "smart" oilfield — Qinhuangdao 32-6 — in the shallow-water Bohai Bay offshore northern China.

At the field, CNOOC has installed more than 400 digital cameras and 26,000 automatic data collection points, which oversee operations, monitor equipment and collate production data to enable the collaborative production of various gas fields.

Technologies including cloud computing, internet, big data, artificial intelligence, 5G wireless connection and Beidou navigation satellite system were installed with the aim of improving the field's production efficiency by 30%, reducing maintenance costs by between 5% and 10% and and cutting required labour by 20%, while also ensuring output increases, according to the project's general manager, Yang Lin.

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The sensors at the field are capable of collecting up to 100,000 messages per second, with data collection expected to amount to around 6 terabytes each year.

Adopting digital technologies across multiple offshore operations has offered a better forecasting system to help prevent potential accidents, while also further optimising operations, the company said.

CNOOC said it owns full proprietary rights to the field’s digitalisation applications, with more than 1.3 million lines of codes and over 100 algorithm modules.

Located in the central northern area of Bohai Bay in an average water depth of about 20 metres, Qinhuangdao 32-6 incorporates four production platforms with 99 wells.

The mature asset, which started production 20 years ago, saw its production peak in 2015 at 36,000 barrels per day.

The oilfield has produced more than 250 million barrels of crude since entering operation in 2001.