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A prefabricated FRP composite bridge for the oil and gas industry

News International-French

18 Feb 2011

Canadian Mat Systems and Composite Advantage collaborated on a new FRP raised drill platform to offer oil and gas companies the possibility to suspend an entire drilling operation above ground and eliminate its impact on fragile ecosystems.



As the search for hydrocarbons pushes oil and gas companies further afield, drillers face significant challenges, from stringent environmental impact guidelines to logistical issues that make the use of conventional materials and designs difficult, if not impossible.


Surprisingly, a fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) prefabricated composite bridge system has provided a “green,” lightweight, high-strength solution.


Minimal environmental impact

The proprietary composite bridge product, developed and produced by Composite Advantage (Dayton, Ohio, USA) first caught the attention of Canadian Mat Systems Inc. (Edmonton, Canada) in 2008. The manufacturer supplies temporary foundation mats to oil and gas companies. Canadian Mat Systems has a division in Anchorage, Alaska, that serves the state’s North Slope oil patch. In response to customer feedback, the company was looking to create a working surface that had minimal environmental impact on the drilling area yet could be easily transported and assembled on-site in inaccessible locations around the world. If Composite Advantage’s FRP superstructure worked in bridge applications, why couldn’t it work as a raised drilling surface?


Canadian Mat Systems Inc. is a manufacturer of temporary structural foundation panels commonly called “mats”. These panels are used to support operational activity in areas of low-weight-bearing soil conditions. Initially designed to facilitate access and operations, the use of mats has helped reduce the environmental footprint of the company’s activity, which has become a key driver for its new product development.


Composites Advantage manufactures very large fibre-reinforced composite parts for structurally demanding applications and corrosive environments. The advanced material company has developed ground-breaking processing techniques. It primarily serves the infrastructure and construction industries, fabricating large, complex parts that incorporate the finishing and assembly details customers need to reduce installation costs. Its products range from vehicle and pedestrian bridges, bridge decks, large structural walls, roofs and panels, to high-performance pads and mats.




The two North American companies collaborated to adapt the prefabricated bridge and develop the oil and gas industry’s first FRP raised drill platform (RDP). The new RDP product was introduced to the market in 2009. Design requirements for the RDP were built around Canadian Mat Systems’ knowledge of equipment and processes used on the surface of a drill platform. Composite Advantage, able to mould modular panels up to 15 m long, employed its unique infusion process to mould the RDP panels for placement on a steel substructure. Composite beams and panels were integrally moulded together. Panel facings, beam shear webs and beam caps consisted of multiaxial fibreglass fabrics for load carrying strength, stiffness and crushing strength. A fibreglass laminate on the outer facing skin provided bending strength and stiffness. The entire lay-up of beams and working surface was then infused with a corrosion-resistant vinyl ester resin.


Design and performance

Composite Advantage has extensive knowledge about the fabrication and design of large structural FRP products. Leveraging their existing bridge products, which have a proven performance track record on US roads, was an important aspect in making sure this new product would meet the design requirements. For use in bridge applications, the company subjected its FRP composite bridge system to a structural test programme that validated both design and performance. Specimens and panels were tested in the following areas: laminate (material properties), deck (bending, shear), integral deck/beam section static bending (full scale), fatigue of the integral deck/beam section for 2M cycles, residual strength of the integral section, and joint beam section static bending.



The RDP was built to HS20 vehicle specifications which dictate a 9 metric ton (MT) concentrated tyre load (a US bridge design code governing bridge capacity) and can accommodate drilling rigs up to 680 MT. The composite panels (7.60 m long, 2.30 m wide and 56 cm deep) can accommodate any type of walking rig design. The composite RDP elevates the entire drilling operation above ground, including trucks and equipment, thereby eliminating its impact on fragile ecosystems. Stronger than conventional materials (wood, steel and concrete), the fibre composite RDP is so lightweight, the panels (just under 98 kg per m²) can be lifted by helicopter. For some extreme locations, helicopters are the only option for transporting panels to the exploration site. The large surface area of the platform can also be shipped to location at a minimal cost. For example, 205 m² of platform can be shipped on one flatbed.



Cost savings

RDP’s composite construction also allows the platform to be supported by a surprisingly small number of pilings. Common steel pilings can be used. Since the decking is sealed for containment, the steel piles and beams underneath the decking are shielded from corrosion.


Weathered steel is used for added corrosion resistance. But the light weight of the composite panels means the number of support pilings or legs can be reduced by 50%. This represents a substantial cost savings for customers. Half the number of pilings means installation costs are also reduced by half. When operators determine the specific drilling location on the composite platform, the appropriate panel can be quickly removed to create an opening for the drill operation. The RDP offers containment from oil spillage in the event of an accident. A cross slope provides water runoff in heavy rain. A railing system around the platform’s perimeter ensures personnel safety, yet permits sections to be moved for easy snow removal. RDP panels are static dissipative to eliminate the build-up of electrical charges.


Different flame retardancy levels are available based on customer requirements. RDP panels are unaffected by freeze/thaw cycles or high moisture areas like swamps, bogs or muskegs where water absorption can cause rot in conventional material. The need for maintenance or repair is minimal. The composite RDP also delivers a life span of up to 40 years.

© Composite Adavantge