A UK-based collaboration between environmental monitoring equipment developer Sentinel Subsea, Heriot-Watt University and the Oil & Gas Innovation Centre is intended to produce a non-toxic means of monitoring the integrity of suspended or decommissioned oil and gas wells in the North Sea.
The project aims to develop an “environmentally benign tracer compound”, referred to as ‘SWIFT’, which would be pumped into an offshore well before the well is sealed. Should the well leak, the tracer compound would react with a ‘detector material’ (or ‘trigger’) at the seabed. This tracer-trigger reaction would cause a buoyant beacon to detach, float to the sea surface and relay an alert, via satellite, to the well operator. The development partners have described the concept as being akin to “a smoke alarm for the sea”.
Professor David Bucknall of Heriot-Watt University comments: “The SWIFT compound cannot be found naturally in the environment, as this would cause a false positive detection.” As well as testing the efficiency of SWIFT, the team is keen to ensure that the compound is non-hazardous in an offshore environment. After the chemical design has been approved, the compound will undergo lab / field trials and independent external validation tests, with commercial system production anticipated later this year.
“The industry is striving to reduce decommissioning expenditure by 35% by 2035,” says Ian Phillips, CEO, Oil & Gas Innovation Centre. “This non-invasive, environmentally friendly monitoring system has the potential to monitor thousands of decommissioned and suspended wells across the UK and further afield, at low cost.”