Ellon firm to build £2m portable testing facility for oil and gas sector

The testing facility will be based at the National Decommissioning Centre in Ellon. (Image credit: University of Aberdeen/NDC)

SENGS is to build a new £2 million ‘world-leading’ testing facility for oil and gas on behalf of the National Decommissioning Centre (NDC).

The Ellon-based engineering firm, which is a Pryme Group company, will build the portable onshore test facility which will be based at the NDC in Newburgh.

NDC said that, as well as directly benefiting the local economy through the construction and operation phase, the project will also enable the development of a national research cluster in the field.

The facility will be used by technology developers to trial new techniques that NDC said could ‘significantly’ reduce the costs and risks involved in deploying new techniques for sealing wells.

It added that the North Sea has ‘some of the world’s most stringent’ regulations when it comes to well plugging and abandonment, which is the ‘biggest single decommissioning cost that North Sea operators currently face’ – with it saying that current practices generally require the use of a drilling rig to plug and abandon a well at an average cost of £5 million each.

NDC explained that, whilst new technologies are emerging that don’t require the use of a rig, proving these technologies requires access to an onshore well which is ‘risky and costly’. It said that the test chamber will overcome these issues by providing a ‘safe’ and ‘inexpensive’ alternative for testing that can stimulate the commercialisation of new techniques.

The project is funded by the Scottish Government’s decommissioning challenge fund via the Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC), which along with the University of Aberdeen is a partner in the NDC.

Dr Sergi Arnau, who is leading the project at the NDC, said, “There are currently several rig-less plugging and abandonment technologies under development, including the use of thermite, bismuth alloys, and resins. But to be accepted by industry these techniques need to be verified, qualified and shown to be at least as effective as traditional cement plugs.

“The Barrier Qualification Test Chamber will significantly reduce the cost and risks associated with testing and qualifying new plugging and abandonment techniques and allow for the removal and analysis of the plugs, which is impossible through normal, offshore testing.

“This will help to validate new techniques while accelerating commercialisation and deployment. Not only this, but the techniques developed and proved by this new facility will be directly exportable to basins around the world, underlining its potential on a global scale.”

NDC director Professor Richard Neilson, of the University of Aberdeen, is a co-investigator in the project. He said: “While the short-term benefits of the project are clear, in the long term it will stimulate the creation of a cluster that will benefit industry and academic research in the north-east of Scotland and beyond.

“The NDC is ideally placed to host this equipment given the strength of our in-house expertise and proximity to the North Sea, as well as the availability of other complementary testing equipment providing a one-stop shop for solutions.”