Castrol: The World’s Liquid Engineer
Having pushed the limits of technology for over a century, Castrol has progressed to a leading position in the offshore oil and gas industry, and was recently tasked with lubricating the world’s deepest drilled oil well. Sarah Pursey caught up with Castrol Offshore’s Global Sales Director, Mr Graham Rose, to discover how Castrol Offshore – the world’s ‘Liquid Engineer’ – is developing solutions for the most challenging environments to be faced by the oil and gas industry, both today and tomorrow.
From drilling rigs to the world’s most demanding deepwater production platforms, Castrol Offshore’s track record in delivering high quality lubricants for key applications is hard to contest. With its global reach, innovative technology, environmental leadership and ability to deliver maximum reliability to operations both offshore and onshore, the company ensures smooth operations for virtually all of the world’s major oil and gas operators and OEMs.
At the heart of these achievements lies Castrol’s world-class facilities at Pangbourne Technology Centre in the UK – the central hub for the development of new solutions destined for utilisation in some of the most challenging operating conditions experienced by the oil and gas industry today.
Utilising a comprehensive suite of capabilities, including a fleet of unique performance test rigs, combined with an exceptional pool of talent (highly skilled chemists, engineers and specialised staff), Castrol Offshore has made strong strides in developing products to support the goliath endeavours of the oil and gas exploration and development environment, as Mr Rose reveals.
Castrol Grennfield – leading the field
“Castrol Offshore’s first major new product development comes in response to strict regulations regarding environmental performance in the offshore sector – platforms are typically legislated by the country in which they are operated, and the Norwegian and UK governments have been the most progressive in this sense, with their implementation of the OSPAR convention. As a result, Castrol Offshore has invested heavily in recruiting environmental expertise to help us understand where legislation is going, such that in the event of a discharge into the ocean, our product will have reduced impact on the marine environment,” informs Mr Rose. Castrol Offshore took this step some 4-5 years ago, well ahead of legislation starting to bite the operator – a fact that is typical of Castrol’s propensity to take a leading position in industry developments.
The resulting ‘Castrol Greenfield’ product range includes Castrol BioBar (a topside hydraulic fluid for use in deck applications where there is a risk of spill or leakage into the sea), Castrol BioStat (designed for use in thrusters where, by design, product is discharged into the marine environment) and Castrol BioTac OG (for use on jacking gears).
“While legislation effectively sets a timetable stipulating that, for example, in the North Sea, by 1st January 2017, all operators should have adopted environmentally responsible products, firms like BP and Statoil are implementing those changes now – so, it’s not a compliance thing; it’s about market leadership,” stresses Mr Rose, “and we are enabling such companies to gain that leading edge.
“As the offshore oil and gas industry in Nigeria, Angola and other West African nations, along with in the Caspian, Australia and Asia, begin to grow, the expectation is that they will adopt similar legislation – so Castrol Offshore is ready to provide its Greenfield products to those markets.”
Ultimax – when failure is not an option
“The second major recent product develoment came in response to recognition that operators of offshore installations are up against very strict cost pressures, and that equipment reliability offshore has thus never been more important,” Mr Rose continues. “As a result, from our R&D facility at Pangbourne, we’ve developed Castrol Ultimax – a range of products that enable equipment on the platform, drilling ship or semi-submersible to operate to the highest level of performance.”
Castrol Offshore’s Ultimax ensures high lubrication performance, increased equipment protection, retention of the product’s properties under arduous conditions, extended equipment life, reduced equipment maintenance, reduced oil consumption and increased energy savings.
These dependable products for the toughest conditions include: Tribol 1100, which elimnates micro pitting for longer lasting, quieter, more efficient operation of mud pumps; Perfecto XPG, a high performance mineral lubricant with a high degree of thermal and oxidative stability and enhanced load carrying properties; and Perfecto SN – a synthetic oil with extreme temperature resistance.
“Ensuring that the equipment is operating to the highest level of performance is what these products are designed to do,” Mr Rose advises.
Rising to the challenge
Indeed, such innovative product development can be seen in the context of the general shift in the oil and gas sector into more challenging environments. “On the surface, a good example would be the Arctic,” suggests Mr Rose. “As the governments that border the Arctic region decide upon opening it up for exploration and production, the challenges – both environmental and logistical – in exploiting the reserves will be enormous. A piece of equipment must operate 24-7, 365 days a year, in perhaps minus 50 degrees, so equipment must be specially designed for those conditions – the OEMs, in turn, need a lubricant that can also function under those conditions. So, our R&D lab in Pangbourne is focusing very much on future environmental challenges such as this.
“On the seabed, the trend is the shift into much deeper water, with increasingly higher temperatures and pressures in the well stream. The equipment that our products lubricate must contend with these conditions, so our scientists are working with the industry to understand where new operating conditions will require a step change in lubricants. We are looking 5-10 years ahead now, as the oil fields of tomorrow will begin ramping up around 2017. “Other trends will include FLNG – a technology that we are looking to be an enabler of,” he adds.
Over the past 30 years, Castrol Offshore has grown from its strongholds in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caspian, to target emerging markets. “We are now the primary supplier of offshore lubricants in Nigeria and Angola, while the offshore industry in other West African countries will soon emerge – so we’re well positioned for that,” remarks Mr Rose.
He goes on to predict that Brazil will ‘likely be the area of greatest investment by the industry in the next 5-10 years’. “Recognising that, we have expanded Castrol’s existing production plant capabilities to encompass offshore-specific products too,” reports Mr Rose, whose company recently made its first deliveries to operations in offshore Brazil. “We see many exciting opportunities there in the years ahead.
“Aside from that, we have just serviced our first offshore oil and gas field in Russia, and expect our activity to grow significantly in that region,” he states. “Challenges there include the Arctic, but also a huge onshore oil and gas industry that is modernising – and we believe that we have products and services to help that develop.
“Indeed, having built strong relationships with offshore OEMs and operators, we see these partnerships as transferable to the onshore industry. So, we will be expanding our activities in onshore drilling and production – both conventional and unconventional applications, including shale oil and gas, coal-bed methane and fracking, where a need exists for specialist support.”
Today, Castrol Offshore stands at the forefront of product development. As a lubricant leader closely aligned with operators and OEMs, Castrol’s ability to establish a strong presence in new and challenging environments, both onshore and offshore – “We are committed to being wherever our customers want to be,” notes Mr Rose – stands the company in good stead to be the partner of choice in tomorrow’s oil and gas fields.