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Subsea Expo 2019: development of technologies critical for oil and gas

orking under the sea always presents a great technical challenge. This year’s Subsea Expo highlighted that there are countless opportunities for innovative projects in deep water. Image: Harmonic Drive UK

Graham Mackrell explores the common themes from this year’s show and explains why the development of new subsea technologies is critical for future oil and gas projects

February’s Subsea Expo in Aberdeen demonstrated the clear efforts being made by UK businesses to maintain a world leading position in the subsea sector.

Energy market researcher GlobalData reported that 30 new crude oil and natural gas projects are expected to start operating in the North Sea over the next three years. 

The UK is expected to lead the resurgence of these projects, with twenty planned for the UK sector, nine in Norway and one in Denmark.

The demand for oil and gas has pushed exploration and extraction deeper and further into the remote regions of the world. This is greatly down to the reserves in many subsea oil fields being exhausted and, until recently, existing equipment has not been designed to withstand the extreme temperatures and pressures that come with deep sea extraction.

Overcoming this challenge is especially important as every 10 metres of depth underwater is thought to be the equivalent of approximately one extra atmosphere. This means that, at full ocean depth, anything that cannot stand the pressure must be housed in something that will withstand 1,100 times atmospheric pressure, or approximately 11,000 tonnes per square metre.

Similarly to the aerospace and machine tooling industries, design engineers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the oil and gas sector are moving from traditional hydraulic actuation systems, which have been known to develop oil leaks over extended periods of time, and instead integrating electro-mechanical actuation systems, like those offered by Harmonic Drive UK.

Gearing based electrical actuation is more economical, ecological, controllable and reliable than the hydraulic actuation systems commonly used in the gas and oil industry. The high single stage ratio of Harmonic Drive gears results in a compact unit with a very high torque-to-volume and torque-to-weight relationship.

When used downhole, the annular design of the gear allows optimal use of the available space with the addition of a hollow shaft making it possible for the application to cope with the extreme operating pressures, encountered in deep-sea extraction.

Working under the sea always presents a great technical challenge. This year’s Subsea Expo highlighted that there are countless opportunities for innovative projects in deep water. The challenge, however, is not with tackling the engineering capability, as products like Harmonic Drive’s are designed with its intended environment in mind. Now, the challenge is increasing the awareness around these upcoming projects and getting more UK businesses involved.

Graham Mackrell is managing director of gearing specialist Harmonic Drive UK.

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