A number of North Sea platforms are even now connected to shore by high-capacity fibre-optic communications cables, and more are on the way. This opens new and exciting perspectives in a number of areas. A greater degree of unmanned operation can be envisaged, with material improvement of safety as a consequence. It will also be possible to run continuous seismic processing from shore. Taken together, this will lead to a major reduction of production costs, enabling the individual fields to be operated longer, and it will be possible to achieve a profitable operation of otherwise marginal fields.
“We are in the process of doing something that can contribute to increased oil revenues for Norway”, says Olav Harald Nordgard, Strategic Projects Director with Enitel ASA, “and this is exciting”.
Enitel is in the process of distinguishing itself as the number-one fibre-optics operator in the North Sea. It started with the NorSeaCom cable from Kårstø in Rogaland to Lowestoft in England. “This project, which was run in collaboration with the Swedish telecom company Telia on a 50-50 basis, gave us valuable experience”, says Nordgard. “The fibre-optic cable was the first between Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, and the first commercial telecoms cable that used oil platforms to cross wide ocean spaces. Since then a similar installation has appeared in the Gulf of Mexico and another is planned for the Persian Gulf.”
This winter Enitel also made a strategically important agreement with Statoil and Norsk Hydro, to establish and operate a new fibre-optics broadband network in the North Sea. The new fibre network, about 200 km long, will link the platforms Troll A, Gullfaks and Snorre, with branches southwards to Oseberg. It will be linked into the already existing fibre-optic cable from Kolsnes near Bergen to the Troll platform.
Nordgard does not hide the fact that the bidding for this contract – worth about NOK 120 million - was very tough, in competition among others with Telenor. Nor is he in any doubt that the experience from the NorSeaCom project was a deciding factor.
Enitel is to finance, own, establish and operate the new fibre-optic network. The agreement that Enitel has made with Statoil and Norsk Hydro means that Enitel will be delivering telecommunication via the fibre network in question for the next ten years, with an option for a renewal for another five plus five years. Under this plan, the fibre network will be operational from April 2001.
The first stage
“We regard this contract as the first stage in the work of linking together several oil installations in a fixed telecom network”, says Nordgard. The cabling of the stretch from Oseberg via Heimdal, Jotun, Balder and Grane to Sleipner will probably be the next phase. Furthermore, BP has planned a link from Aberdeen to Forties in the UK sector and on to Ula. A connection there is being negotiated. Even if there is a national boundary running down the middle of the North Sea, it is natural to regard the whole sea as a single market. We are trying to coordinate our network planning with BP’s,” says Nordgard. “And so we are seeing the contours of a formidable broadband network in the North Sea.”
In addition, the Shetland Development Council is working on a connection from the northern tip of Scotland to Shetland. A glance at the map shows that a number of alternative routes can be created for traffic to the various platforms, reducing the risk of a communications breakdown considerably.
Enitel also controls the fibre-optic link from Lowestoft via London, Amsterdam, Hamburg and Copenhagen to Malmö in Sweden, with its branches to Stockholm and Oslo. Combined with the fibre link across the North Sea, this creates an east-west axis from Scandinavia to London that Enitel will almost certainly exploit for something much more than traffic to and from the oil platforms. Nordgard does not omit to mention that Enitel already has a bigger fixed network for overseas traffic than does Telenor.