With current demand for hydrocarbons the undeveloped resources in Arctic regions shall become an increasingly economic development opportunity. However, there are numerous new technical and operational challenges which are required to be overcome to achieve safe and robust operation of offshore pipelines in Arctic regions.

Alaska oil pipeline and rig. Photo: Getty Images

The issue of ice interaction with the seabed and pipeline is currently the key design challenge in the development of arctic offshore pipelines. Uncertainties in characterising this phenomenon are an order of magnitude greater than in other design scenarios. Efforts to model the ice gouging phenomenon are on the cutting edge of available technology. Seasonal ice coverage vastly complicates conventional installation and operational programmes and limits vessel based access.

Currently existing design codes do not provide guidance for the design, installation and operation of arctic offshore pipelines. Project specific design approaches and knowledge retention by key contractors is currently the norm. Further, there is a wide variation in the accepted design principles and probabilistic approaches currently employed to characterize the threats to arctic offshore pipelines.

To address these industry concerns a Joint Industry Project, denoted ICE PIPE, was initiated by DNV in mid 2008. The ICE PIPE JIP has 14 participants from the industry comprising oil & gas majors, contractors, manufacturers and designers. The objective is to develop a new recommended practice for Arctic offshore pipelines.

The focus of the ICE PIPE JIP is to provide robust design methodologies for qualifying state of the art assessment tools and in generating rational characteristic values for ice gouge design. These methodologies are integrated into a design process that is fully compliant with the requirements of DNV-OS-F101. The aspiration of the ICE PIPE JIP is to provide the first industry wide guideline for robust and reliable design of Arctic offshore pipelines. However significant further research is required in order to reduce the uncertainties in simulating the complex ice gouging phenomenon to the levels of conventional pipeline engineering.