Introduction

Non-renewable resources supply almost 90% of the world’s energy requirements[1], the largest provider of which is crude oil. Crude oil is found in oil reserves; geological formations buried under the surface of the Earth. A large majority of these oil reserves are located offshore, with around 4,000 platforms located in the Gulf of Mexico alone[2]. Oil production is currently extremely high amongst the OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) group of countries, and it appears that this will continue for the foreseeable future[3].

The oil is transported to land by tankers, which are typically loaded with oil from terminals located near the oil platform[4]. There is currently no legislation on how to deliver the oil from the platforms, so it is typically done with single ‘carcass’ (single layer) hoses – a low tech solution with short design life. If these components were to fail, the environmental implications are obvious, and have been highlighted by many disasters, such as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, more commonly known as the BP oil spill.

Task

New changes to the Oil and Pollution Act of 1990 has said that by 2015, all offshore loading platforms should be equipped with double carcass loading hoses, and any company contravening these laws will be subjected to fines. On top of this, any oil spills from burst hoses will incur further fines, particularly if the platform is located near the habitat of a rare animal.

A large oil company with several platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, located near Reddish Egret (a small heron) colonies, has requested your services. They have contracted you to design a new double carcass loading hose system to install on their oil rigs, which will be capable of detecting when failure of the inner hose has occurred (or is about to occur). The system will then be shut down and the component will be repaired, preventing spillages which could cause harm to the Reddish Egret colony, thereby avoiding hefty fines.

 Considerations

The benefit of a double carcass system is that if the inner pipe bursts, the oil is contained by the outer hose. The outer hose is typically made of rubber and can expand to several times its initial size before failure occurs. Failure is often judged by visual inspection – if the outer hose appears bloated then the inner hose has failed – however, this is fairly unreliable, particularly if some of the hose is submerged, and is too great a risk for your client.

The focus of your project is therefore to design a high-tech failure detection system within the hose. It must be fast acting as a minor spill will be fined just as heavily as a major one. It must also be cost effective, as price is the primary driver for the client.

Other considerations also include safety and feasibility. You might also want to think about the sustainability and longevity of your proposal:

  • How will your hose detect a leak in the inner hose, and report it to operators?
  • Will your hose act autonomously, or use any other technology to repair or seal leaks? Can existing solutions be incorporated into your design?
  • Is there a risk of your design igniting the oil?
  • Will your solution be easy to maintain and repair?
  • Is it sensible to replace the whole hose if only a small section is damaged? Can you design it in modular sections? How easy is it to transport the hose?
  • What changes are likely to come about in the future that will affect your proposal?
  • Is it durable enough to survive a storm or hurricane? Is it reliable?
  • Perhaps most importantly – how is it better than the current system? (See Dunlop website – http://www.dunlop-oil-marine.co.uk/)

[1] http://interestingenergyfacts.blogspot.co.uk/2008/03/oil-facts.html

[2] http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0726/p03s01-usgn.html

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-30238603

[4]Offshore Loading Hose Applications, Dunlop Oil & Marine Ltd., 2012