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North America's Source for Oil and Gas News
January 2004

Vol. 9, No. 4 Week of January 25, 2004

PETROLEUM DIRECTORY: Innovation: the key to Alaska’s future

NANA/Colt breaks new ground in engineering design

Alan Bailey & Kay Cashman

Petroleum Directory Contributing Writer

The evolving Alaska oil and gas industry requires creative thinking to overcome the economic hurdles of developing smaller oil fields in a remote and challenging environment. And that’s what’s been driving NANA/Colt Engineering LLC, one of Alaska’s most successful full-service engineering contractors.

NANA/Colt was formed in November 1997 as a partnership between NANA Development Corp. and Colt Engineering, a large Canadian oil and gas contractor. NANA/Colt Engineering has since established an exemplary reputation for innovative engineering design and project management. The company also provides operation and maintenance support for existing oil and gas facilities.

“It’s not business as usual in Alaska ... there need to be ways of eliminating costs from the facilities and thinking outside the box when designing new facilities,” John Minier, president and general manager for NANA/Colt, told Petroleum News. “We’re definitely a leader in designing the next generation of North Slope facilities.”

State-of-the-art design

Take, for example, a new production pad that NANA/Colt has recently designed for the North Slope.

“We have designed a new satellite production pad that could potentially reduce surface costs by 75 percent,” Minier said.

Many of the cost savings resulted from a novel design that enables the completion of most of the fabrication and welding before moving the facility to the North Slope.

NANA/Colt is also helping the oil companies overcome the challenges of developing viscous oil on the Slope. For example, the company is the engineering contractor for BP’s Orion project.

“The question (for Orion) came down to economics and feasibility — what works and what doesn’t work,” said Jim Steward, NANA/Colt’s vice president of engineering. “Our folks have been doing that economic analysis, the hydraulic studies and the feasibility studies.”

Working with the independents

The arrival of small independent oil companies on the Alaska oil scene is triggering a paradigm shift in the approach to oil development. And that new way of doing business dovetails into NANA/Colt’s creative approach to engineering design.

“The independents are very good at taking the constraints away — a ‘give me your best shot’ (approach),” said Craig Morrison, NANA/Colt’s vice president of alliances.

Future oil fields on the North Slope will be much smaller than Prudhoe Bay and will need to buy production and transportation capacity in the existing facilities, Minier said. NANA/Colt’s cost-effective designs and the company’s experience with the existing North Slope infrastructure place the company in an ideal position to support this new mode of oilfield development.

“When you have to build facilities that have to interact with existing facilities it sometimes gets creative — integrating power supplies, equipment utilization, and production capacity,” Minier said.

Technical leadership

NANA/Colt’s technical leadership in engineering design supports the company’s innovative design work. The use of new technology enables engineers to work faster and smarter than ever before —which translates to reduced costs and better products for the customers.

“There are two ways ... to apply technology — you either embrace it or you tolerate it,” Morrison, said. “This group, from the management structure through the employees, embraces the new technologies.”

NANA/Colt takes great particular pride in its state-of-the-art, computer-based design system, commonly termed an AutoCAD system. A traditional AutoCAD system requires separate data entry for each type of engineering drawing. However, the data-centric type of system that NANA/Colt is implementing only requires each design element to be entered once — the internal workings of the system keep track of how all the various design elements link to each other and to the drawings or other documentation.

“For example, the structural (engineer) needs to know that a big pump’s going to be sitting here and piper needs to know that (the same) big pump’s going to be sitting there,” said Greg Cooke, vice president and manager of projects. “(The information about the pump) is only entered once ... that reduces errors, increases speed and makes many of the drawings much more automated.”

Three-dimensional scanning

An engineer can now use a three-dimensional scanner in conjunction with the AutoCAD system to create digitized drawings directly from field observations — a laser beam scans back and forth, locating objects and measuring distances at a field site. Data can travel from the North Slope by fiber optic line to Anchorage.

“(The engineer can) open an AutoCAD drawing, discuss it ... he’s already scanned it in, so you’ve got data downloaded in AutoCAD form and ... you’re done,” Cooke said. “What used to take a team on-site to do now can be done by one field person feeding that information back to here (in Anchorage).”

In another technical innovation, so-called electronic smart boards linked together over the Internet assist team discussions and reduce the need for time consuming and expensive travel.

“You can have a giant drawing on a giant screen and that drawing can be viewed in Canada, it can be viewed on the North Slope, it can be viewed right here (in Anchorage)... and everyone can make their fixes to it,” Cooke said.


In addition to maintaining its technical leadership, NANA/Colt is ensuring a full order book through business diversification, both within and outside the oil and gas industry.

“We’ve also moved into the Cook Inlet region and are now supporting most of the producers (there),” Minier said. For example, NANA/Colt has designed a pipeline to Aurora’s gas well on the west side of Cook Inlet, he said.

As well as building on its established reputation for pipeline design, NANA/Colt, has achieved an impressive track record in designing fire and gas systems.

“We have supported Milne Point and Endicott in some upgrades and we think that we are becoming the ‘go-to’ company for fire and gas systems in Alaska,” Minier said. “... It’s highly important and critical to our clients now.”

Power plant design

Outside the oil industry, NANA/Colt has been diversifying into the engineering of commercial buildings and power plants.

“One of the projects we did this year was owner engineering support and then preliminary engineering for Golden Valley Electric Association’s North Pole power plant expansion,” Minier said.

NANA/Colt works with customers ranging from large multi-national corporations to small electric utilities or other organizations. Regardless of the size and type of customer, NANA/Colt brings its state-of-the-art engineering technology and a full range of services, including project management and material procurement.

The company also takes a flexible approach to its scope of services and can tailor its pricing to the amount of risk and to the size of project that a customer feels comfortable with.

“If you’re willing to listen to what customers want and are flexible to what you’re going to give to fit that, it makes a much more harmonious arrangement and generally satisfies both sides of the deal,” Cooke said.

People oriented

With NANA/Colt’s people oriented culture, Minier sees an empowered, motivated and trained workforce as the key to the kind of creative thinking the company encourages.

“We have established a very strong loyalty with our employees to us and us to our employees,” Minier said. “We will continue to try to make NANA/Colt an excellent place to work, attracting the highest caliber of people.”

And Minier views creative thinking — thinking “outside the box” — as an essential factor in moving industry forward in Alaska.

“Sometimes it really does take starting totally over — if you’re always trying to improve the bow and arrow you’ll never invent a gun,” Minier said.

Editor’s note: Alan Bailey owns Badger Productions in Anchorage, Alaska

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