Equinor awards ‘first ever service contract for subsea drones in oil & gas’

Norway’s Equinor has awarded Italy’s Saipem a subsea service contract which entails using a wireless underwater intervention drone and an ROV on the Njord field located offshore Norway.

Roberto Di Silvestro (left), head of Sonsub at Saipem, Giovanni Chiesa, head of subsea engineering and underwater technologies at Saipem, Sophie Hildebrand, chief technology officer Equinor, Hans Henrik Nygaard, procurement Equinor, and Gry Lindboe, manager procurement Equinor. (Photo: Arne Reidar Mortensen)

The contract will make Equinor the first user of technology expected to be completed in 2020, Equinor said on Wednesday.

“This is a historic contract in the oil and gas industry. It is the first contract signed for the use of advanced wireless drone services. We are pleased to secure a contract that will bring subsea technology a big step forward. Equinor aims to help shape the development of this type of technology, which this contact underscores,” said Anders Opedal, executive vice president, Technology, Projects & Drilling.

The services from Saipem Limited Norway Branch will be employed when the Njord field resumes production in 2020. Lasting for ten years, the contract has five two-year options for additional extension. The value of the fixed part of the contact is estimated at about EUR 40 million ($43.6M). The contact lays down requirements for permanent presence in Norway and Norwegian-speaking personnel.

The new technology employs an underwater intervention drone (Hydrone-R) and an all-electric work class ROV (Hydrone-W). The drone may be autonomous below Njord for months between scheduled maintenance, whereas Hydrone-W will be connected to the platform like a traditional ROV. Both are electric and can be operated without a surface vessel.

The use of this technology will therefore contribute to significant carbon reduction, according to Equinor. In addition, the response time will be reduced. Furthermore, the operations will not be dependent on weather conditions.

“It is very exciting to be a pioneer for this type of technology offshore. Enabling personnel to plan and perform operations from shore rather than being flown offshore, this path-breaking technology will also reduce costs,“ said Olav A. Godø, operations manager, Njord.

Equinor’s proprietary docking station for data transmission and subsea induction charging will be installed below Njord and used by the underwater drone.

In a separate statement on Wednesday, Saipem said that the agreement with Equinor is the first ever worldwide service contract for subsea drones signed in the offshore oil & gas industry, thus making the Hydrone-based technology an unrivaled pioneer.

Hydrone-R operations will start from 1Q 2020, immediately following completion of the endurance tests currently underway, while Hydrone-W will be delivered in 2021.

Francesco Racheli, COO of Saipem’s E&C Offshore Division, said: “Today, we are making the history of subsea robotics: our visionary Hydrone program, launched back in 2015, has proven to perfectly match Equinor’s challenging requirements. Cooperation with one of the key players in the energy market by delivering our top-notch technology in the years to come is a very significant milestone for us.”


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