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Insight

Multifunctional Articulating Concrete Mat Technology

Wed, 01/25/2012 - 13:51

More than half of the world’s offshore platforms, tens of thousands of kilometres of pipeline, and a vast number of pipeline crossings can be found in the Gulf of Mexico. To minimize the risk of oil leakage due to pipeline damage, reduce maintenance cost, and optimize production continuity, pipeline protection is a strategic priority for the offshore oil and gas industry.

Until 1990, when Submar introduced concrete mat technology to the Gulf of Mexico, traditional sand and cement bags were used by pipeline operators to provide a crossing for a new pipeline over an existing pipeline, as well as for stabilization and protection of exposed subsea pipeline. Today, these solutions have become rare as articulating concrete mat crossings have become the accepted standard for regulators, contractors and pipeline operators due to their superior construction quality, cost- competitiveness and worker safety features. Because these mats come in 2.44m by 6.10m units, they can be easily transported and manoeuvred into place to cover, protect and stabilize unburied pipelines, flowlines and umbilicals. The ease of installation not only eliminates a substantial amount of manual labour but also reduces the required hours, and associated costs, of diving or ROV and vessel availability by 60%.

With an oil and gas industry centred around Cantarell, the world’s largest offshore oil-producing complex for decades, Mexico was an obvious market for subsea application of concrete matting technology. The product was introduced into the market in 1999 by Submarelher, a joint venture between US-based Submar Inc. and Mexican industrial group Grupo Elher. While the concrete matting technology is English, the patent is owned by Submar Inc., which today receives royalties from Grupo Elher after the Mexican group obtained full ownership of the former joint venture.

As Jorge Acuña Begne, Director General of Submarelher explains, when the product was first brought to Mexico, the main client was Pemex. “In 1999, we started supplying concrete mats to Pemex Exploration and Production (PEP) to protect their offshore installations. After two years we expanded our focus and started to develop onshore projects for both Pemex Refining and Pemex Gas.” Acuña Begne believes that in the short-term at least, the focus will remain on the onshore fields, and remains optimistic that his technology will remain well- used in Mexico.

At a global level, the oil and gas industry has found new applications for Submarelher’s concrete matting technology in recent years. For example, concrete mats were used as part of the operation to contain the oil spill at the Macondo well in 2010, demonstrating their flexibility of application – the concrete mats were used as subsea staging areas for repair works.

In the Gannet oilfield in the North Sea, where Shell experienced the worst spill in British waters for a decade due to a leaking relief valve on a subsea flowline, concrete mats were placed on buoyant sections of the flowline to secure the pipe to the seabed. Hugh Shaw, the UK Secretary of State’s Representative, was satisfied with Shell’s response and commented on the operation by stating that “the risk of further oil release has considerably reduced following a successful operation to return raised sections of the pipeline to the seabed with concrete mattresses.” While Submarelher remains focused on applying its concrete matting technology as protective solutions, their application potential to mitigate offshore emergencies might one day place them firmly in the spotlight of the Mexican oil and gas industry.