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The Role of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles in Deepwater Life of Field


Integrity Management
Dan McLeod and John Jacobson, Lockheed Martin MS2

Copyright 2011, Offshore Technology Conference


This paper was prepared for presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference Brasil held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 46 October 2011.
This paper was selected for presentation by an OTC program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been
reviewed by the Offshore Technology Conference and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Offshore Technology Conference, its
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Offshore Technology Conference is prohibited. Permission to
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Abstract
Integrity Management of deepwater fields requires routine general visual inspections of critical infrastructure. To date the
only means of conducting general visual inspection is through the use of ROVs. Deepwater ROV spreads are large and
heavy requiring large support vessels with dynamic positioning capability and a significant number of personnel at sea.
The capabilities of unmanned underwater vehicles have been enhanced through developments in Autonomous technology
progressing to the point that autonomous underwater vehicles can now routinely conduct general visual inspection of subsea
facilities. Benefits of Autonomous inspection include:
Reduced cost of operations
Faster inspection
Automatic Change Detection
Georegistered inspection data
Simultaneous operations from a single support vessel
Large standoff distances from the facility being inspected
Increased safety of operations
Reduced environmental impact
Reduced specification requirements on support vessel
o Smaller footprint
o Dynamic Positioning not required

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o
o
o

Fewer personnel at sea


Reduced Mobilization Costs
Faster response to emergency inspections

Lockheed Martins Marlin Autonomous Underwater Vehicle recently completed a series of tests in the US Gulf of Mexico
demonstrating autonomous change detection of a fixed offshore platform. Examples of the Marlins capabilities from these
tests are illustrated. Deepwater Field Owners now have a new tool that can bring significant operational and financial
benefits to Life of Field Integrity Management.

Introduction
Integrity management practices in deepwater fields rely heavily on general visual inspection of subsea equipment.
These inspections are most often performed by a Remotely Operated Vehicle launched and operated from a
dynamically positioned vessel. Deepwater ROV systems and their support vessels are high spec systems demanding
high rates for their use by the field operator. Often these systems require highly skilled crews that can number
above 30 people for an extended operation.
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles are smaller than ROVs, require less deck space, have fewer operators and are
free from the precise positioning required by the support vessel. Advances in autonomy coupled with unique
mission sensors greatly reduce the human interaction required when collecting images of offshore oil and gas
underwater infrastructure. These factors dramatically reduce the operational cost of a deepwater inspection. This
paper explores the roles that an AUV with the appropriate sensors and autonomy could fulfill to bring a new value to
subsea field managers.

Subsea Integrity Management.


Subsea Integrity Management is defined by the Energy Institute Guidelines for the Management of Integrity of
Subsea Facilities as the management of a subsea system or asset to ensure that it delivers the design requirements,
and does not harm life, health or the environment, through the required life.
A key element in any integrity management program is regular in-service inspections. As the industry moves into
deeper and harsher environments, challenges faced by operators include the high cost of subsea inspection and the
limited inspection intervals available. Inspections provide a snapshot of the structural health of the system. An ROV
inspection of a deepwater facility can provide visual evidence of structural degradation, impact damage, corrosion,
valve damage, leaks, vibration, and other structural damage. Benchmarking the condition of subsea equipment
following installation and tracking its status over time can provide a history of the deterioration rate. 1

Deepwater Inspection Tasks.


Visual inspection of deepwater facilities routinely employs Remotely Operated Vehicles that are piloted by
operators on the surface while recording high definition video data. Video Inspections include: well heads, valve
positions, PLETs, PLEMs, UTMs, flowlines, jumpers, moorings, risers and associated cabling and equipment on the
sea bed. This equipment is often spread over many square kilometers requiring the support vessel to maneuver in
DP mode for days. Inspection speed is totally dependent on the coordinated movement of the ROV and support
vessel and the skill of the ROV pilot.

Effective Implementation of Subsea Integrity Management Himanshu Maheshwari, 2H Offshore Inc.

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Due to recent catastrophic failures increases in the frequency of mooring inspections may be required

Figure 1. Failed Mooring Socket

Video recordings do not lend themselves to geo-registration on a pixel or frame basis making comparisons between
past and current states difficult if not impossible. Once collected this data is often stored on hard drives in file sizes
that exceeds multiple terabytes. Cataloging the files is a demanding task and review of the recorded video requires a
dedicated individual to view the images and discriminate changes or areas of concern. With or without baseline
documentation the review is tedious, time consuming and the data files are often misplaced or lost.
Inspections using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles.
AUVs equipped with appropriate sensors and robust autonomy can offer huge benefits when compared to an ROV
operation. Unhindered by a surface vessel with attached umbilical and 100+ tons of shipboard equipment the AUV
can be employed across vast areas and remain submerged for multiple shifts dependent on the mission profile energy
demands and the AUVs energy storage capacity. Operators on the surface are in a monitoring mode only.
In addition to these benefits, the geo-tagging of each inspection Volume Element or voxel, coupled with precise
feature-based navigation, allows automated change detection against the benchmark condition, an enormous time
saver compared to the laborious examination required today by inspection engineers. By using advanced autonomy,
true 3-D sonar or underwater 3-D laser imaging sensors, inspections are no longer limited by water turbidity or
motion of the sensing platform.
Operating within an active field poses new challenges. Navigation of the AUV becomes more dependent on close
proximity to the subsea equipment and precise positioning is required to prevent collisions with the equipment.
Lockheed Martin has embarked on a program that has significantly advanced the capability for an AUV to work in
such a restricted space. Using our Marlin AUV coupled with advanced autonomy developed throughout the
corporation and advanced sensors the Marlin vehicle will be able to perform the deepwater inspection tasks reliably
and safely with fewer operators from a smaller vessel.
Lockheed Martins technology was recently demonstrated in the oil and gas fields offshore Louisiana. These trials
demonstrated the first increment in our advanced autonomy focused on post hurricane inspection of a fixed platform.
Similar to the deepwater cases shallow water inspections depend on ROVs and often divers, where cost and safety
risks abound.
Marlin Post Hurricane Inspection Trials.
AUV inspection of a fixed platform after a major hurricane presents an opportunity for major time and cost savings
for oil and gas operating companies. Our 2011 trials focused on demonstrating the capability to image a platform
for which no a priori information is available. Lockheed Martin mobilized the system (Figure 2) in three lifts in a
matter of hours.

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Figure 2. Marlin System Mobilized in three lifts

Once on station the Marlin vehicle is launched and during its first mission around a platform builds a 3D model of
the subsea structure constructed from 3D sonar data. This 3D constructed model becomes the baseline from which
future change detection missions are run.
Upon mission completion the vehicle autonomously returns to a predetermined point awaiting acoustic command to
rendezvous with the ship. The operators initiate an auto homing sequence that results in the vehicle homing to a
transponder on the lift line where it automatically latches to the lift line and indicates that it is ready for recovery
followed by the crane operator simply lifting the vehicle from the water (Figure 3). Once inboard the vehicle is
stowed in its shipboard cradle and readied for the next mission.

Figure 3 Marlin Vehicle Recovered to L&R Crane by simply lifting from the water.

Real time change detection has been demonstrated on two fixed structures. This highly advanced feature, coupled
with autonomous A* route planning, enables the AUV to revisit areas where changes have been detected and collect
high definition video and / or high resolution sonar images at a much closer range. All of these records are tagged
with precise position information for every voxel.
Inspection data collected in this manner enables the generation of true 3-D models that can be used to develop an
accurate baseline for engineering mensuration and precise integrity monitoring spanning over days or years. 3D
models of the structures inspected are shown in Figures 4 and 5.

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Figure 4. 3D Model of fixed 8 leg platform in 18m water depth; Constructed during 26 minute inspection.

Figure 5. 3D Model of fixed 4 leg platform in 40m water depth; Constructed during 41 minute inspection.

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Figure 6. Changes highlighted in real time indicating damage to structure.

Summary
The Marlin Offshore Platform Inspection System has completed its sea trials and demonstrated advances in
autonomy that enable a game changing inspection capability for oil and gas operating companies. Lockheed Martin
has proven that the system is capable of quickly, accurately and safely completing a structural survey of an offshore
platform with minimal operator interaction and oversight revolutionizing shallow water inspections. The 3D models
generated in situ offer field operators with unprecedented utility to accurately monitor the integrity of their subsea
facilities with lower costs, fewer people at sea and greatly reduced risk. Future plans include implementing these
capabilities into a Marlin MK 3 vehicle capable of operating in the deepwater oil fields of the world offering
advanced homing and docking and a unique set of sensors to conduct inspections of moorings, risers, flowlines, and
associated deepwater facilities.

Acknowledgements
The authors wish to thank the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America for partial funding along with the
member operating companies for their contribution in bringing this new capability to the offshore oil and gas industry.

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