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Flexible Pipe Technology

The ancestor of flexible pipe now widely installed in offshore oil and gas operations was a flexible drillstem developed by Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP) beginning in the 1950s for use with downhole electrodrills and turbodrills, the then predominant means of drilling in Russian oil fields.  IFP is a scientific research and industrial development, training, and information services center active in the fields of oil and gas.  Funded by the French government, IFP’s mission is to develop technology that can be licensed to French companies.   

Following an intensive R&D program with Russian participation, IFP produced its own Flexodrilling process.  However, cost and mechanical stress challenges proved insurmountable and focus was redirected to offshore flexible pipe applications.   

The first patent application titled “Undersea Transport of Fluids by Flexible Pipe” was filed in 1961.  Early flexible pipe (a combination of steel reinforcements and thermoplastic sheath for tightness) was optimized for mechanical and physico-chemical stresses (temperature, pressure, crude type) in placement and producing operations.  In the early 1970s, new dimensioning tools and a sealing sheath of polyamide l1 were incorporated.  In 1972, this led IFP to found the Coflexip company to commercialize the technology, with a focus on developing flexible pipe for pipeline use in the petroleum industry.   

Coflexip’s first commercial installation was in 1973 in Elf’s Emeraude Field, offshore the Congo.  Flexible pipeline applications continued to increase and the technology was broadened for use as risers for floating production, storage and offshore loading systems (FPSOS). Flexible pipe also has facilitated development of fields in remote areas because it can be shipped and installed from spools, thus minimizing the need for large lay vessels. 

Subsequent acquisition of several companies to broaden and complement its technology base, including a merger with Stena Offshore, enabled Coflexip to become both a supplier and installer of flexible pipe.  Then, in 2002, the company was purchased by Technip.   

Flexible pipe has progressed from small, low pressure pipe to pipe with inside diameters up to 19 inches and pressure ratings of up to 15,000 psi. Today flexible pipe is routinely used in global offshore oil and gas operations in water depths up to 2500 meters (8,000+ ft). 


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