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STREAM - Sonar Technology for Remote Environmental Monitoring

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - STREAM (STREAM - Sonar Technology for Remote Environmental Monitoring)

Reporting period: 2017-08-01 to 2018-01-31

The majority of oil and gas production in Europe takes place offshore, with over 34,000 wells in European waters. Whilst major leaks such as Deepwater Horizon are rare, oil is continuously spilling from undetected leaks. For example, the MC20 platform in Louisiana is estimated to have leaked up to 1.4 million gallons of oil since 2004 while the UK’s Health and Safety Executive showed that in the North Sea, 30 of the 134 gas leaks were undetected and of the 42 major deepwater oil leaks 41 were not detected at all in 2015.

With 85% of the oil produced in Europe coming from offshore fields, legislation is urgently asking for robust mechanisms to detect leaks promptly (e.g. EU’s recent directive 2013/30/EU). Undetected leaks cause severe environmental damage to marine ecosystems, fisheries and aquaculture. If leaks can be detected earlier, they can be plugged faster to minimise environmental damage and return the well to full production.

Current detection technologies, including but not limited to visual inspection, passive and active sonars, fluorescence and methane detectors, suffer from a range of limitations such as high false positives, high cost, lack of continuous monitoring or safety risks, meaning monitoring is ineffective, expensive and time consuming. In fact, the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found that existing detection equipment was the first to detect a leak in just 19,5% of incidents. The other 80% of the time leaks were discovered by residents, landowners or site employees of the oil companies usually days after the leak occurred.

To address this growing problem, Subsea Asset Location Technologies (SALT) have developed STREAM which is a durable, low-energy and cost-effective system to continuously monitor oil and gas leaks in deep ocean waters. Based on patented technology, STREAM uses the acoustic (sonar) measurements of clean and contaminated water to detect changes in water composition in real-time and at a fraction of the cost of current technologies. Our highly innovative sonar reflector overcomes the limitations of existing solutions by using simple, robust components that can be permanently installed, operate continually with no maintenance and determine water contamination accurately, eliminating false positives/negatives.

This main objective of this project is therefore to refine and commercialise STREAM into the most robust, real-time, early warning system to detect contaminants in seawater, protect the marine environment, and help oil and gas companies meet stricter regulation.
A feasibility study has been completed, based on the activities listed in the original Phase 1 project application. Specifically, these activities included 1. Risk assessment, 2. Detailed Market Study, 3. Stakeholder Analysis, 4. Competitor Analysis, 5. IP management and 6. Business Plan Refinement.

1. Effective risk management is crucial for project success and a comprehensive risk assessment was undertaken. The outputs from this work has already been used in planning further work and devising an effective work plan. The assessment exercise included technical, commercial, environmental and management risks. Higher risks have been identified and contingency plans developed.

2. A detailed market study was completed, including an analysis of the main market drivers, market potential and size, and analysis of key customers and supply chain. Our market analysis confirms the strong demand for subsea environmental monitoring. In particular, the increase in demand for energy, especially by fast-growing developing economies, and the reduction of existing onshore oil reserves, are pushing global operators towards deep and ultra-deepwater oil and gas sources. There is a large installed base of offshore wells and it is predicted that this will increase in the coming years. Furthermore, permanently and temporarily abandoned offshore wells continue to represent a threat to the environment. Thus, the requirement for underwater remote environmental monitoring becomes more significant. As a result, this study confirms our initial market analysis which predicted a huge market potential for subsea leak detection technologies such as STREAM.

3. A thorough stakeholder analysis has been completed which has allowed us to better understand the regulatory environment and the industry procedures when procuring and installing leak detection solutions in the oil and gas industry. Equipment suppliers must take into account the differences in regulatory requirements of each country as well as the operator’s requirements which are set on a field specific basis. The Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED) phase is also important in the decision-making process that operators and integrators follow when selecting leak detection equipment. This task has helped us refine our understanding of the requirements, compliance and legislature processes of key regions.

4. An analysis of the current state-of-the art allowed us to analyse the strengths and weakness of competing solutions to refine our unique selling points (USPs). Main competitors together with their respective solutions were further identified. Each technology was compared against the market needs and requirements for effective remote, “surface-less” environmental monitoring. It was apparent that even solutions which combine different technologies (e.g. fluorometers and methane gas detectors) do not adequately meet all end-users needs. As a highly durable passive sonar reflector, STREAM has the capability to last throughout the “life-of-field” while being able to effectively detect gas and oil leaks without the need of being towed by ROV/AUV which is a common weakness of existing solutions.

5. A detailed review of competitive IP has been undertaken and this is presented in the feasibility study report. There is a significant amount of existing IP from potential competitors and this has been taken into account during formulation of SALT’s strategic business plans. Freedom to operate is recognised as a critical issue in establishing risk, ownership and conditions of IP use. IP and patents relating to STREAM have been presented and discussed with background supporting information.

6. Finally, our business plan has been refined and it includes the product offering, customers and USPs, resources and expertise, commercialisation plan, commercial impact and a SWOT analysis.
To address the environmental damage of undetected oil and gas leaks, an extensive range of different internal and external systems exist to monitor subsea oil and gas infrastructure. Although internal systems can quickly detect large leaks, they have limited ability to detect small, chronic leaks whereas current external systems are limited in the following ways:

1) Fluorometry require the presence of aromatic hydrocarbons to trigger the fluorescent response, which are not necessarily present with heavier oils that are likely to become submerged.
2) Whilst methane detectors have been shown to be suitable for detecting dissolved gases at close proximities, they cannot detect oil leaks.
3) Sonars suffer from frequent false positives due to
a. other sunken and suspended materials which may provide an acoustic signature similar to that of leaks.
b. shadowing will occur when the sound pulse is reflected by the structure, not allowing visibility of anything behind it. Crucially important, active sonars, cameras and even technologies which combine several methods (e.g. fluorometers and methane detectors) need to be towed by ROV/AUV, meaning they cannot provide continuous and remote monitoring.

On the other hand, STREAM goes beyond the state-of-the-art by providing oil and gas companies, for the first time, with a real-time, continuous and remote early-warning leak detection system that uniquely uses the speed of sound to detect contaminants in seawater, at a fraction of the cost of current technologies. As a passive, extremely durable sonar reflector, STREAM is able to continuously monitor for oil and gas anomalies subsea. Being 75% lower cost than an active sonar system, several STREAM units can be deployed which provide a wider coverage area at a lower cost for our end-users. This project can therefore refine and commercialise the most robust and cost-effective leak detection system to provide continuous and remote environmental subsea surveillance.

Our oceans and sea are vital for the environment and society as they provide a wealth of resources for living organisms and economic activity. In Europe, the 'blue' economy represents roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year. However, undetected oil and gas leaks present a significant environmental and economic threat. This project helps oil and gas companies to quickly detect leaks and prevent the catastrophic impacts of undetected oil and gas leaks. By detecting oil and gas leaks early, we protect the fishing industry which is by far one of the most affected sectors from this type of contamination. We will also improve the health and safety of operators by providing with a maintenance free, remotely operated detector while oil and gas producers will avoid costs incurred by clean-up activities and economic losses from product leakage. This project helps develop the blue economy in a way that not only fuels EU growth and job creation but also maintains our marine resources pollution-free and ensures the protection of the marine environment.