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Subsea flexible flowline installation issues and solutions

(DMAR Engineering Inc. Houston Texas 77094 USA)

Kevin Huang

Abstract Flexible flowlines and risers have been increasingly used for deepwater and ultra-deepwater field applications partially because of its low submerged weight and better dynamic characteristics comparing to rigid pipelines. The offshore installation of flowline may have advantages as well. Howeverit has special needs for the installation aids and it is challenging to install tie-in structures due to its low bending stiffness. This paper is to present some of the challenges during a recent flexible installation project with a total of more than 100 km flexible flowlines and 24 in-line sleds/pipeline end termination(PLET) in water depth up to 1 300 m. Key words flexible installation normal lay in-line sled PLET

1 Introduction
Flexible flowlines have been widely used for subsea oil and gas field development. Flexible comprises of a multi- layer structure of helically wound metallic wires and tapes and extruded thermoplastics [12] and it can be designed to meet the specific requirements for different applications based on conveyed fluid compositionpressuretemperature water depth service conditions etc. It also has many other advantages when compared to rigid pipelines. Howeverflexible is still a relatively new concept and its installation could be challenging as well especially when pipeline end termination (PLET) and in-line sleds are tied in. Related publications on flexible installation are still rare. This paper is the first of its kind to focus on the flexible flowline installationi.e. the common issues associated with flexible installationand provide guidelines and recommendations that could lead to solutions. Flexible installation includes the major activities such as load outtranspoolinginitiation with PLETnormal layingin- line sled tie- inbuoyancy module selection buoyancy module underwater transferPLET/sled landingand curve layingetc. In this paper the flexible initiation and laydown with PLET are discussed in Section 2 and 3 respectively.

During PLET initiationPLET position control is essential to ensure that PLET is landed within the planned target boxwhile during PLET laydownthe layback distance is important to ensure a safe landing of PLET. It is recommended to initiate the 1st end PLET with crane whiplineand abandon the 2nd end PLET with A & R winch combined with buoyancy modules. Then typical issues during in-line sled tie-in are presented in Section 4. The issues include sled upendinglowering and landing. Sled maneuvering on the vessel deck requires a PLET handling system (PHS). The PHS provides accurate control of the sled position at the worktable in order to be tied in to the flowline. Existence of in-line sled also complicates the lowering and landing procedures. After thatthe buoyancy module wet parking and subsea transfer are assessed in Section 5 and 6 respectively. Effect of bottom current and rigging snatching loads are the main areas studied. Then this paper continues to discuss the major concerns during flowline transpooling in Section 7. Flexible transpooling is the area that could be easily overlooked by many installation engineers while it is one of the activities that incidents occur most often. Lastflexible curve laying is investigated in Section 8. Curve laying in strong current could be difficulthoweverit could become much easier if the curve stability is well understoodand vessel is

Received 20 March 2013


maneuvered properly based on the current strength and heading. Another option is to pre- install turning points along the lay corridorwhich will add extra time to install and recover the turning points.

2 Flowline initiation with PLET

Flowline is usually initiated with PLET just like rigid pipe flowline. The PLET could be lowered through the water column with flexible extending to the installation vesselas long as the flexible s tension capacity is sufficient. When the PLET approaches to the sea floor it needs to be upended to a level positionand then landed on the target box. Therefore the critical stage is this upending process. There are two options to consider. 1 Option 1use buoyancy modules. The buoyancy modules could be attached to the PLET either on the installation vesselor through underwater transfer. When the buoyancy module is attached on the installation vesselclump weight is also needed to ensure the PLET sink under water. This would require some simultaneous operations (SIMOPs) on the vessel. When the buoyancy module is transferred underwater a wet parking buoyancy module may be neces-

saryand remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations are also required. 2Option 2use crane whipline. In this option the crane whipline provides lifting force and PLET. This option assumes the whipline lifting capacity and wire length are sufficient to lift the PLET at the designated water depth. No buoyancy modules are necessary to upend the PLETand the PLET positions can be actively controlled during landing. Howeverthe crane tied to the PLET and not available for other lifting operationsand it also requires the layback distance to be sufficiently small since the crane can only reach a limited distance from the vessel (maximum lifting radius). Both options are deemed feasible for flowline initiation. Option 1 is more general while Option 2 is limited by layback distance. When layback distance is not a concernOption 2 is recommended for better control on the PLET positioning. This option was also selected during the project (flowline initiation with PLET in more than 1 000 m water depth). Fig.1 illustrates the installation configurations after the whipline is connected to the PLET.

Note: DMAdead man anchor

Fig.1 Flowline initiation with PLET

3 Flowline laydown with PLET

Flowline 2nd end laydown with PLET is different from flowline initiation because the PLET needs to be controlled at upright position throughout lowering otherwise the flexible torsional moment will rotate the PLET (lift the PLET mudmat on one sideand sink on the other side). Thereforeit is recommended to attach a buoyancy module to the PLET on the vessel. Yoke could be included in the PLET however it

is not necessary. Tugger lines are usually needed to control the possible PLET rotation when the PLET is being lowered into the water (before the buoyancy module is fully submerged and the upright lifting force is in effect). Deployment winch may be used to lower the PLET. Layback distance is to be carefully defined to ensure the bottom tension is within the acceptable range. Fig.2 illustrates the flowline laydown process.

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Fig.2 Flowline laydown with PLET

4 Flowline laying and sled tie-in

In-line sled tie-in usually requires a PHS. It provides 3- degree- of- freedom translational movements and 2- degree- of- freedom rotational movements for sleds/PLETs positioning during tie- in. In- line sled also requires buoyancy module during lowering. When the sled is lifted up from the PHS and lowered into waterthe buoyancy module is held by the crane and has no effect on the sled. Due to its center of gravity (COG) offset and installation vessel motionsthe sled/PLET has a tendency to rotate about the flexible. It was found that if the swivel joints are lockedthen the sled will not rotate. The twisting moment is resisted by the flexible flowline s torsional stiffnessthe residual torque within the flowline is negligible because most of the residual torque is released before the flowline is hung off on the worktable. After the sled is lowered into the water column with buoyancy module attachedthe sled is in nearly vertical position. The static clearance between the flowline and the buoyancy module is quite small and proper analysis is required to ensure the buoyancy

module will not clash with the flowline. When strong current existsthe current drag force may push the buoyancy around the flowlineand clashing is to be checked under such condition as well. The dynamic installation loads are to be calculated at all installation stages flange connection lowering through splashing zone [3]lowering through water column and landing. In general the installation vessel may not be able to function as weather vane when the sled is on the work table and being lowered through the splashing zone. When the sled is close to the sea floorits installation loads are sensitive to its position. To capture the maximum loadsthe whole process of sled landing should be simulated continuously. Fig.3 illustrates a typical load time history during sled landing. It shows that the sled landing process takes about 5 min before the sled/PLET is completely stabilized on the target box. The flexible installation loads are also related to the flowline conditions whether they are empty or flooded. Fig.4 shows the snapshots of the flexible installation with in-line sled [4].

Fig.3 Typical installation load time history


Fig.4 Flexible installation with in-line sled

5 Buoyancy module wet parking

Sometimes it is necessary to wet park the buoyancy modules. Usually the buoyancy module has a large cross sectional area that could receive large lateral force if subject to strong current. Excessive lateral force could push the wet-parked buoyancy module away from its intended positionand cause clashing concerns. This effect should be evaluated using typical installation analysis software toolsor estimated through simplified calculation. And buoyancy module installation tolerance should be considered properly to develop the maximum buoyancy module motion envelope.

6 Buoyancy module underwater transfer

Buoyancy module underwater transfer is frequently used during flexible installation with structures especially when the structures have heavy weights. For examplewhen two buoyancy modules are needed for the heavy sleds installation one of the

buoyancy modules is attached to the sled at the vessel. And the 2nd buoyancy module is pre-installed on the sea floor with a 65 m long buoyancy module rigging and an 18Te DMA. Another 25 m long rigging is taped on the buoyancy module and will be connected to the sled when it passes by on its way to target box. As the sled continues to land the wet- parked buoyancy module is passively transferred onto the sled. Numerical simulation indicates that before the wet-parked buoyancy module is fully transferred onto the sledboth 65 m rigging and 25 m rigging could go slack and taut in each cycle the sled moves vertically. To avoid the uncertainty of possible high snatching loads a 10 m polyester segment is embedded into these two riggings [4]. Dynamic simulations confirm that the addition of these soft slings could effectively suppress the snatching loads hence increase the safety margin of the installation. Fig.5 shows the snapshots before and after the buoyancy module underwater transfer.

Fig.5 Example of buoyancy module underwater transfer

7 Flowline transpooling
Flowline transpooling could be very challenging because of the twisting (pig tailing) phenomenonas shown in Fig.6. Flexible has residual torque during manufacturing. The residual torque could be released partially or wholly during transportationstorageor

load out. It is usually not possible to estimate the residual torque. During installationthe flexible length in suspension is quite longand installation vessel could also change orientation to release the torque if necessary. Therefore this issue occurs more often during flexible transpooling. Theoretically it is not possible to eliminate this phenomenonsome guideVol. 11 No.4 Aug. 2013 89

lines to mitigate the risks associated with the flexible pig tailing are as follows. 1Know the flexible allowable twisting limits. These limits should be evaluated and provided by the flexible vendors. 2Use straight line arrangement for transpooling. If straight line arrangement is not possible sharp turns need to be avoided. 3) Increase the flexible free suspension length to allow for easy and early identification of the pig tailing and higher twist angle tolerance. 4) Monitor the flexible closely during transpooling. Once pig tailing occursstop and select appropriate contingency plans.

5) Transpooling tensioner could prevent the flexible twist from propagating from one side to the other sideand accumulate the twist at one side. Open the tensioner could balance the torque between the two sides of the tensioner. 6) The transpooling procedures should be reversible. This would allow the flexible to be restored back to where it comes from and provide a final safe plan in case all other contingency plans fail. Overallflexible transpooling needs to be carefully planned. There has been many incidents resulting in damaged flexible pipe interior layeror damaged outer sheath in past projects. Yet this phenomenon has not been fully understood as of now.

Fig.6 Flowline twisting during transpooling

8 Flowline curve laying

Curve stability depends on the friction force between the flowline and the seabed soil. Flowline curve laying could be difficult especially laying small curves with one or more sleds suspended in the water column. The reasons area. the layback distance is higher than the normal laying condition (without sleds)and consequently the flowline static bottom tension is also higherb. the existence of the sleds causes higher dynamic tensions within the flowline. When subject to strong bottom currentthe current could induce lifting force on the flowline and reduce the friction force between the flowline and the soil. The flowline bottom tension varies with different sled positions. To determine the curve stability during flowline installation several scenarios need to be checked a. a curve is being laid while one or more sleds are lowered down through the water columnand in this case the flowline bottom tension at the touch down point is used for curve stability checkb. a curve has been laid not too far away from the sled target box. In this case this curve also requires stability check because the flowline bottom tension is much higher dur-

ing sled landing. The tension for curve stability check would be the flowline tension at the touch down point minus the axial friction generated by the flowline straight segment between the curve and the touch down point. For better curve stability it is recommended to position the small curves at a certain distance away from the sled target box. Note that the curve stability during installation also depends on the laying direction. Losing curve stability during installation results in flowline slippage which could relocate the flowline outside of its laying corridorgenerate unnecessary overlengthand cause the downstream sled to miss its target box. Usually the flowline needs to be recovered after slippage occurs. Curve stabilizing devicessuch as sand bagsshould be considered for small radius curves that have high possibility of losing stability. Fig.7 shows an example of the flexible curve laying with sleds [4]. Installation vessel maneuvering is also critical to ensure the vessel is on the correct position that will not over pull the flexible. One example of the vessel trajectory is shown in Fig.8where the vessel is laying a 180 degree curve turn with small radius under strong current coming from South [5].


Fig.7 Flowline curve laying

Fig.8 Vessel trajectory during curve laying

9 Conclusions
This paper systemically studied many of the topics covering most areas for flexible installation. Flexible installation could be challenging if its characteristics are not well understood. Flexible flowlines are usually connected to structures such as PLETs and inline sleds for jumper tie- in. The existence of structures complicates the flexible installationand is the major area of concern. Flexible jumper installation is another area deserves some attentionand many issues have been observed during offshore installation such as connector upendingjumper twistconnector orientation correctionand connection. These areas are not included in this paper. In summary typical issues during flexible installation have been discussed

and recommendations based on actual project experience are given. References

[1] American Petroleum Institute. API 17B Recommended practice for flexible pipe[S]. 3rd edition. 2002. [2] American Petroleum Institute. API Specification 17J Specification for unbonded flexible pipe[S]. 2nd edition 1999. [3] Det Norske Veritas. DNV 156 Rules for planning and execution of marine operations Part 2 Chapter 6 special sea transports[S]. 1996. [4] Huang KJi AUribe E. Deepwater in- line sled installation methods and its application to frade project[C]// Proceedings of the Offshore Technology Conference OTC 19805. Houston TX the United States 2009. [5] Huang KDiao W. Flexible laying in strong current[C]//Deep Offshore Technology ConferenceDOT presentation. Houston TX the United States 2010.

Author Kevin Huangmaleborn in 1971graduated from Tsinghua University. He is currently an engineering manager at DMAR Engineering Houston. Dr. Huang has published more than 20 technical papers in the international journals and proceedings. He has more than 18 years experience in the offshore oil and gas industriesand is expertized in floating production system designriser system engineeringflowline and umbilical engineeringand subsea installation. He has employment experience with the major oil and gas service companies and installation contractorsincluding ABB DeepwaterAker KvaernerAcergyand Technip. He can be reached by E-mail
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