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Title:
SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR TEMPORARILY CONNECTING AN UNDERWATER STATION AND A SURFACE FACILITY
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/145771
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A system (1) for temporarily connecting an underwater station (2) arranged on the bed of a body of water and a surface facility (27) has an elongated conducting member (4) with one end connected to the underwater station (2) and one free end selectively and temporarily connectable to the surface facility (27); a marker buoy (5); and a cable (6) connected to the free end of the elongated conducting member (4) and to the marker buoy (5) to quickly recover the free end of the elongated conductor element (4) when it is necessary to connect the underwater station (2) via the elongated conducting member (4) to the surface facility (27).

Inventors:
RADICIONI, Alessandro (Via Martiri di Cefalonia 67, San Donato Milanese, 20097, IT)
FILIPPI, Alessandro (Via Martiri di Cefalonia 67, San Donato Milanese, 20097, IT)
MORESCHI, Giovanni (Via Martiri di Cefalonia 67, San Donato Milanese, 20097, IT)
Application Number:
IB2018/059779
Publication Date:
August 01, 2019
Filing Date:
December 07, 2018
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
SAIPEM S.P.A. (Via Martiri di Cefalonia 67, San Donato Milanese, 20097, IT)
International Classes:
B63B21/50; B63B22/02
Domestic Patent References:
WO2012066031A12012-05-24
WO2015026778A12015-02-26
Foreign References:
US5944448A1999-08-31
US9470365B12016-10-18
GB2350342A2000-11-29
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ECCETTO, Mauro et al. (Studio Torta S.p.A, Via Viotti 9, Torino, 10121, IT)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A system for temporarily connecting an underwater station and a surface facility, the system (1) comprising:

- an elongated conducting member (4) having one end connected to the underwater station (2) and a free end selectively and temporarily connectable to a surface facility (27 ) ;

- a marker buoy (5) ; and

- a cable (6) connected to the free end of the elongated conducting member (4) and to the marker buoy (5) .

2. The system as claimed in Claim 1, and comprising a depth buoy (3) slidably coupled to the elongated conducting member (4) and configured to keep the free end of the elongated conducting member (4) at the depth buoy (3) .

3. The system as claimed in Claim 2, and comprising at least one mooring line (7) for connecting the depth buoy (3) to the bed of the body of water.

4. The system as claimed in Claim 2 or 3, wherein the depth buoy (3) comprises a sleeve (14) slidably coupled around the elongated conducting member (4), the free end of the elongated conductor member (4) being integral with a head (19) configured for being connected to pipes and/or electrical cables of the surface facility (27) .

5. The system as claimed in Claim 4, wherein the sleeve (14) has a flared end (17) .

6. The system as claimed in Claim 4 or 5, wherein the sleeve (14) is configured for supporting the head (19) .

7. The system as claimed in any one of the foregoing Claims from 4 to 6, wherein the sleeve (14) has a slanted end (18) .

8. The system as claimed in any one of the foregoing Claims from 4 to 7, wherein the depth buoy (3) comprises buoyancy modules (15) arranged around the sleeve (14) .

9. The system as claimed in any one of the foregoing Claims from 4 to 8, wherein the head (19) comprises an end structure (31), which is integral with the elongated conducting member (4); and a flange (32), which is configured to be coupled to the end structure (31) and the cable (6) .

10. The system as claimed in any one of the foregoing Claims, wherein the elongated conducting member (4) is connected to the bed of the body of water by means of an anchoring device at the end connected to the underwater station (2 ) .

11. The system as claimed in Claim 10, wherein the anchoring device comprises a double flared sleeve (9) fixedly fitted around the elongated conducting member (4); an anchoring cable (8) connected to the double flared sleeve (9); and a plurality of buoyancy modules (10) fixed to the elongated conducting member (4) upstream of the double flared sleeve ( 9) .

12. The system as claimed in any one of the foregoing Claims, wherein the underwater station (2) comprises at least one tank (11; 12; 13) configured to contain service fluids.

13. The system as claimed in any one of the foregoing Claims, and comprising a surface facility (27) comprising a lifting device (28) configured for lifting the free end of the elongated conducting member (4) above the bed of the body of water.

14. The system as claimed in Claim 13, wherein the surface facility (27) comprises a hooking structure (29) for hooking the free end of the elongated conducting member (4) onto one edge of the surface facility (27) .

15. A method for temporarily connecting an underwater station and a surface facility, the method comprising the steps of :

- by means of the surface facility (27), recovering a marker buoy (5) connected by means of a cable (6) to the free end of an elongated conducting member (4) permanently connected to the underwater station (2);

- by means of the surface facility (27), recovering the free end of the elongated conducting member (4);

- securing the free end of the elongated conducting member (4) to the surface facility (27); and

transferring fluids and/or energy and/or signals between the underwater station (2) and the surface facility (27) through the elongated conducting member (4) .

16. The method as claimed in Claim 15, and comprising the step of supporting the elongated conducting member (4) by means of a depth buoy (3) slidably coupled to the elongated conducting member (4) and configured for keeping the free end of the elongated conducting member (4) at the depth buoy (3) .

17. The method as claimed in Claim 16, and comprising the step of mooring the depth buoy (3) to the bed of the body of water by means of at least one mooring line (7) so as to allow the depth buoy to have several stable positions in the body of water depending on the position of the elongated conducting member (4) with respect to the depth buoy (3) .

Description:
"SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR TEMPORARILY CONNECTING AN UNDERWATER

STATION AND A SURFACE FACILITY"

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This patent application claims priority from Italian patent application no. 102018000002120 filed on 29/01/2018, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference .

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention concerns a system for temporarily connecting an underwater station and a surface facility. STATE OF THE ART

In the oil & gas sector, the use of underwater stations for processing hydrocarbons is becoming more widespread. It is thus necessary to temporarily connect an underwater station and a surface facility to transfer service fluids and/or energy and/or signals between the underwater station and the surface facility.

With specific reference to an underwater station used for extracting, transporting and processing hydrocarbons, it is known that management of a multiphase petrochemical fluid transport system also requires use of a plurality of service fluids or '"additives" to prevent and mitigate the onset of problems such as the deposit of asphaltenes, waxes, inorganic salts, or hydrates which can lead to the transport system becoming critical or being put out of service. The occurrence of these problems depends on the characteristics of the fluid extracted from the well and on the temperature and pressure conditions which occur in the system. In some cases, it is necessary to inject biocides to minimise the proliferation of anaerobic bacteria which produce H2S and thus cause corrosion both in the transport system and in the water injection systems which are used to stimulate and increase the production of the deposit. To this end, underwater stations also comprise underwater storage tanks for service fluids and stations for pumping and regulating the flow of servi ce f1uids ,

The document US 2014/301,790 describes a method of refilling an underwater tank performed by a surface facility eguipped with pumps, underwater storage tanks, a control unit, an umbilical, and a winch to selectively reel out and reel in the umbilical whenever it is necessary to refill the underwater storage tank. The method requires the use of a ROV to control, position and connect the free end of the umbilical to the storage tank. The surface facility must further be equipped with a tensioning system and a crane which makes its use particularly expensive.

The document US 9,470,365 describes a method of supply using a surface facility which can be connected to a surface buoy (CALM buoy) , which is anchored to the bed of the body of water and a riser which connects to a collector arranged on the bed of the body of water and connected to the underwater tank which, in turn, is connected to an underwater pumping module and to the operating lines. The surface buoy is particularly expensive, requires a plurality of mooring lines and is subject to weather and sea conditions and, as a result, subjects the riser to fatigue. This system is difficult to implement, all the more so if the water is deep.

The increasingly widespread use of underwater stations for the extraction, transport and processing of hydrocarbons, sometimes also at great depths and/or at great distances from surface facilities, accentuates the problems related to the connection between the underwater station and the surface. This connection is often not only related to the supply of chemicals, but also to the supply and recovery of other service fluids, the transmission of energy and the exchange of signals between the underwater station and the surface .

In addition, with specific reference to the issue of the supply of service fluids to an underwater station, there is a need to limit the period of storage of service fluids underwater to reduce the risk of their deterioration. As a result, it is necessary to implement small tanks, which require frequent replenishment. However, known methods of temporarily connecting an underwater station are too expensive and/or require equipped support vessels which are not always readily available when needed.

OBJECT OF THE INVENTION

The object of the present invention is to provide a system for temporarily connecting an underwater station and a surface facility which is both cost effective and efficient and mitigates the drawbacks of the known art.

In accordance with the present invention, a system is provided for temporarily connecting an underwater station and a surface facility, the system comprising:

- an elongated conducting member having one end connected to the underwater station and a free end selectively and temporarily connectable to the surface facility;

- a marker buoy; and

- a cable connected to the free end of the elongated conducting member and to the marker buoy.

In accordance with the system which is the object of the present invention, the recovery of the elongated conductor element is fast and the surface facility does not require particularly expensive equipment to carry out the required operations. Furthermore, in its resting configuration the elongated conductor element is not exposed to the variable surface sea and weather conditions.

In accordance with an embodiment of the present invention, the system comprises a depth buoy slidably coupled to the elongated conducting member and configured to keep the free end of the elongated conducting member at the depth buoy. Clearly, it is possible to choose the depth at which to position the depth buoy according to the typical characteristics of the body of water in which the system is intended to operate.

Recovery of the elongated conductor element is thus particularly easy even when the underwater station is in deep water.

In particular, the system comprises one or more mooring lines to connect the depth buoy to the bed of the body of water .

Thanks to the present invention, the system is cost effective and, at the same time, makes it possible for the depth buoy to assume different operating configurations depending on the position of the elongated conductor element with respect to the depth buoy. Indeed, the forces acting on the depth buoy vary depending on the position of the elongated conductor element with respect to the depth buoy. The mobility of the depth buoy makes it possible to find equilibrium points for each position taken by the elongated conductor element which minimise the forces exchanged between the depth buoy and the elongated conductor element thanks to the principle that a labile system assumes the configuration which minimises the forces exchanged.

In particular, the depth buoy comprises a slidably coupled sleeve which slides around the elongated conducting member, the free end of the elongated conducting member comprising a head configured to be connected to pipes, electrical cables, fibre optic cables, etc. of the surface facility .

In other words, the head is configured to facilitate connections on the support ship or support barge or support vessel .

In addition, the head is larger than the minimum diameter of the sleeve so that the sleeve acts as a support for the head. This configuration prevents the elongated conducting member from slipping out from the depth buoy.

In particular, the sleeve has a flared end. This is the upper end of the depth buoy which, when the elongated conducting member is connected to the surface facility, prevents the elongated conducting member from taking on excessive curvatures, bending, and being damaged. In fact, the flared end has a radius of curvature greater than the minimum permissible radius of curvature of the elongated conducting member in order to protect the integrity of the latter. A similar flaring is also provided on the hooking structure of the surface facility.

In particular, the sleeve has a slanted end. Specifically, the slanted end is arranged at the opposite end to the flared end and has the function of deflecting the elongated conducting member in a particular direction in a controlled manner. In fact, the slant is determined depending on the configuration that the system assumes in its resting configuration, with the head resting on the buoy, and in its operational configuration, with the head connected to the surface facility.

In particular, the depth buoy comprises floating modules arranged around the sleeve which simplify the buoy from the perspective of construction and make it possible to implement a modular configuration depending on the vertical thrust required at the depth buoy. In this case, the buoyancy modules are distributed between the flared and the slanted ends .

In particular, the elongated conducting member is attached to the bed of the body of water by means of an anchoring device at the end connected to the underwater station. The anchoring device prevents the elongated conducting member from potentially damaging movements.

In accordance with the present invention, the anchoring device comprises a double flared sleeve fixedly fitted around the elongated conducting member; an anchoring cable connected to the double flared sleeve; and a plurality of buoyancy modules fixed to the elongated conducting member upstream of the double flared sleeve.

In practice, the anchoring device is a dynamic attachment which both limits excursions of the elongated conducting member near the landing point and allows the elongated conducting member to assume different configurations preventing drift phenomena and excessive curvatures of the elongated conducting member. The anchoring device thus prevents the elongated conducting member from taking on configurations prejudicial to its integrity without applying excessive forces to the elongated conducting member which, in turn, could compromise its integrity .

In particular, the underwater station comprises at least one tank configured to contain service fluids .

In particular, the system comprises a surface facility equipped with a lifting device configured to lift the head of the elongated conducting member above the bed of the body of water. The weight to be lifted by the crane is relatively light and thus neither large surface facilities nor indeed heavy lifting devices are required.

In particular, the support ship or support barge or support vessel comprises a hooking structure for hooking the free end of the elongated conducting member onto an edge of the support ship or support barge or support vessel.

The elongated conducting member is thus connected to the surface facility, which is equipped to supply the underwater station without the need to bend or fold the elongated conducting member at the surface facility bridge.

A further object of the present invention is to provide a method to temporarily connect an underwater station to a surface facility and to mitigate the drawbacks of the known art .

In accordance with the present invention, a method is provided for temporarily connecting an underwater station and a surface facility, the method comprising the steps of:

- recovering a marker buoy connected by a cable to the free end of an elongated conducting member permanently connected to the underwater station by means of the surface facility;

- recovering the free end of the elongated conducting member by means of the surface facility;

- securing the free end of the elongated conducting member to the surface facility; and

- transferring fluids or energy or signals between the underwater station and the surface facility through the elongated conducting member.

Thanks to the present invention, discontinuous supply of the underwater station is particularly simple and cost effective, particularly in relatively shallow waters.

In accordance with an embodiment of the present invention, the method provides for supporting the elongated conducting member by means of a depth buoy slidably coupled to the elongated conducting member and configured to keep the free end of the elongated conducting member at the depth buoy .

In deep waters, the depth buoy allows the free end of the elongated conducting member to be kept near the surface of the body of water and in any case at a depth which does not expose the depth buoy to the variable marine weather conditions of the surface layer of the body of water. This solution makes it possible to reduce the recovery time of the free end of the elongated conducting member.

In particular, the method provides for mooring the depth buoy to the bed of the body of water by means of one or more mooring lines so as to allow the depth buoy to have several stable positions in the body of water depending on the position of the elongated conducting member with respect to the depth buoy.

Consequently, the constraint imposed on the elongated conducting member by the depth buoy is a dynamic constraint. The depth buoy can assume different equilibrium operational configurations depending on the forces exchanged between the depth buoy and the elongated conducting member. Each equilibrium position minimises the forces exchanged between the elongated conducting member and the depth buoy.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

Further characteristics and benefits of the present invention will be apparent from the following description of a non-limiting example of an embodiment of it, with reference to the Figures of the attached drawings, wherein:

- Figure 1 is a schematic view, with parts removed for clarity, of a system for temporarily connecting an underwater station and a surface facility in accordance with the present invention;

- Figure 2 is a longitudinal section view, with parts removed for clarity, of a detail of the system of Figure 1;

- Figure 3 is a section view, in enlarged scale and with parts removed for clarity, of an element of the system element of Figure 1;

- Figures 4 and 5 show two lateral views, with parts removed for clarity, of two respective components of the system which is the object of the present invention;

- Figures 6 and 7 are side elevation views, with parts removed for clarity, of the system which is the object of the present invention during the step of recovering an elongated conducting member;

Figures 8 and 9 are lateral elevation views, with parts removed for clarity, of an alternative embodiment of the system which is the object of the present invention; and

- Figures 10 and 11 are two lateral views, with parts removed for clarity and parts in section, of two respective components of the system which is the object of the present invention .

PREFERRED EMBODIMENT OF THE INVENTION

With reference to Figure 1, a system 1 for temporarily connecting an underwater station 2 and a surface facility 27 is shown in its entirety; in this case the surface facility 27 is a ship 27 comprising a lifting device 28 and a hooking structure 29. In this case the surface facility 27 shown is a ship, however the surface facility could be a small barge or a small vessel.

The system 1 comprises a depth buoy 3; an elongated conducting member 4 permanently connected to the underwater station 2; a marker buoy 5; and a cable 6 connected to the free end of the elongated conducting member 4 and to the marker buoy 5. The depth buoy 3 is anchored to the bed of the body of water by a single mooring line 7. In Figure 1, the mooring line 7 is anchored to the bed of the body of water by means of appropriate foundations, for example gravity foundations, on piles or suction piles, depending on the type of soil. Alternatively, the depth buoy 3 is anchored to the bed of the body of water by means of several mooring lines . In this case, the position of the elongated conducting member 4 is restricted to being near the underwater station 2 in order to limit movements of the elongated conducting member 4 to near the landing point of the elongated conducting member 4. Control of the position of the elongated conducting member 4 is carried out by a control device which comprises a cable 8 which is anchored to the bed of the body of water; a sleeve 9 which is flared at opposite ends, and is connected to the cable 8; and a series of buoyancy modules 10 which provide upward thrust to the elongated conducting member 4 upstream of the sleeve 9. The elongated conducting member 4 is housed in a sleeve 9 and is anchored to the sleeve 9 so that it cannot slide.

The underwater station 2 is an underwater station for processing hydrocarbons, of the type described in the patent applications EP 3,054,083 and EP 3,253,945 belonging to the applicant. In this case, the underwater station 2 comprises a plurality of tanks 11, 12, and 13 configured to contain chemicals or other service fluids. The tanks 11, 12 and 13 are storage tanks and are configured to operate in a body of water even at great depths .

With reference to Figure 2, the depth buoy 3 comprises a sleeve 14 with a flared end 17; a plurality of buoyancy modules 15 arranged around the sleeve 14 and attached to the sleeve 14; and a stiffening element 16, which is arranged around the elongated conducting member 4 and is attached to the sleeve 14 at the opposite end to the flared end 17.

In more detail, the sleeve 14 has a slanted end 18 which is slanted with respect to the rest of the sleeve 14. The slanted end 18 is arranged at the opposite end to the flared end 17. The stiffening element 16 is attached to the slanted end 18. The mooring line 7 is attached to the lower part of the sleeve 14 and defines, together with the depth buoy 3 and the elongated conducting member 4, a system which has different equilibrium points depending on the position of the elongated conducting member 4 with respect to the depth buoy 3.

The diameter of the elongated conducting member 4, which depends on the number and characteristics of the necessary functions which may vary from project to project, is smaller than the minimum diameter of the sleeve 14 so as to allow the elongated conducting member 4 to slide easily inside the depth buoy 3 and has a head 19 with a diameter, or in general transverse dimensions, greater than the maximum diameter of the sleeve 14 so as to prevent removal of the elongated conducting member 4 from the depth buoy 3.

In the present invention, the term "elongated conducting member" means a pipe for conducting fluids or a cable for conducting energy or signals or a bundle of pipes and/or cables for conducting fluids and/or energy and/or signals or an umbilical.

With reference to Figure 3, the elongated conducting member 4 is shown as an umbilical and comprises a containment element 20; and a plurality of pipes 21, which are arranged inside the containment element 20 and are used to convey the respective service fluids, in this case, the respective chemicals or other service fluids. In sections wherein the elongated conducting member 4 slides relative to the depth buoy 3 and the sleeve 9, the containment element 20 is protected by a protective sheath G which facilitates sliding of the elongated conducting member 4 in the depth buoy 3 and protects the containment element 20 from wear. In the case shown, the elongated conducting member 4 also comprises a plurality of electrical power cables 22 and electrical and/or fibre optic data cables 23, which are housed inside the containment element 20. The elongated conducting member 4 also comprises a filler 24 which has the function of spacing apart from each other the pipes 21 and the cables 22 and 23, and the pipes 21 and cables 22 and 23 from the inner face of the containment element 20. In variants not shown, the elongated conducting member 4 only comprises pipes for connecting chemicals or other service fluids in the liquid state. In addition, where necessary, the containment element

20 of the elongated conducting member 4 is reinforced to meet structural requirements associated with installation and operating loads.

With reference to Figure 4, the stiffening element 16 is sleeve-shaped, extends around an axis Al, is mainly made of polymer material, and has a through-hole in the axis Al with a substantially constant section; and a cylindrical wall 25 with a progressively increasing section along the axis Al from left to right in Figure 4 so as to have a differentiated flexibility along the axis Al . In practice, the flexibility of the stiffening element 16 increases along the Al axis from right to left in Figure 4.

With reference to Figure 5, the sleeve 9 extends along the axis A2, has two flared ends and a wall 26 of substantially constant thickness.

In use, the system 1 for temporarily connecting the underwater station 2 is generally arranged in the resting configuration shown in Figure 1. When it is indicated that it is necessary to transfer service fluids and/or energy and/or signals between the underwater station 2 and a surface facility 27, the surface facility 27 reaches the position indicated by the marker buoy 5 as better shown in Figure 1. The surface facility is equipped with a lifting device 28, which recovers the cable 6 and lifts the elongated conducting member 4, which runs through the depth buoy 3. The head 19 of the elongated conducting member 4 is attached to a hooking structure 29 arranged on an edge of the surface facility 27 as shown in Figure 7. In the operating configuration of

Figure 7, the head 19 of the elongated conducting member 4 is, for example, connected to a pumping device for chemicals or other service fluids in the liquid state arranged on board the surface facility 27 and/or to a generator or to a battery and/or to a device for exchanging signals with the underwater station 2.

Once the transfer is complete, the surface facility 27 and the lifting device 28 reposition the elongated conducting member 4 and the marker buoy 5 into the resting configuration shown in Figure 1.

The system 1 described with reference to Figures 1 to 7 is particularly beneficial for temporarily connecting a surface facility 27 and the underwater station 2 lying on the bed of a body of water in deep water.

If however the underwater station 2 is positioned on the bed of a body of water in relatively shallow waters it is convenient to use the system 30 shown in Figures 8 and 9. The system 30 differs from the system 1 described in Figures 1 to 7 in that the depth buoy 3 and its mooring line 7 are omitted and the head 19 of the elongated conducting member 4 rests on the bed of the body of water.

In a further variant of the system 30 not shown in

Figures 8 and 9, the cable 8, the sleeve 9 and the buoyancy modules 10 are omitted and, in the resting configuration the elongated conducting member 4 is entirely supported on the bed of the body of water.

With reference to Figures 10 and 11, the head 19 of the elongated conducting member 4 comprises an end structure 31, which is integral with the elongated conducting member 4; and a flange or mechanical connector 32 (Figure 10), which is configured to be coupled to the end structure 31 and the cable 6. When the end structure 31 and the corresponding flange 32 are coupled together, they define a closed, generally hermetic, compartment inside which the free ends of the pipes and/or cables converge. These free ends are suitably sealed and protected.

In the resting configuration shown in Figure 10, the end structure 31 and the corresponding flange 32 are housed within the flared part of the sleeve 14 while, in the operating configuration of Figure 11, the end structure 31 without a flange 32 is supported by the hooking structure 29 of the surface facility 27 and the pipes and/or cables are connected with the respective pipes and/or cables of the surface facility 27.

It is clear that the present invention comprises further variants not explicitly described, without however departing from the protective scope of the following Claims.