Size is everything. When you’re talking about reducing footprint, cutting costs and shrinking logistical manoeuvrability, compactness can be key. Of course, in the oil and gas industry, sometimes you need to go big. Enter the power drill behemoths of the sea.In October, the first of Danish shipping giant Maersk’s four commissioned ultra-deepwater drillships was christened. Mrs Nathalie Newman, wife of Mr Harry E. Newman Jr., ExxonMobil Global Drilling Manager, named the drillship Maersk Viking. Constructed by Samsung Heavy Industries, South Korea, the ship will be contracted out to ExxonMobil in the Gulf of Mexico for the next three years, whilst the three other drillships under construction (all four represent a total investment of US$ 2.6 billion), will be delivered from the SHI yard in late 2013 and 2014.
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Able to operate in up to 3600 m of water, Viking will be able to drill down through another 12 000 m of earth, almost six times further downward than the world’s deepest known cave, the Krubera Cave in Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia (2197 m). The ship also boasts a 60 m derrick and six 5500 kW azimuth thrusters thruster engines, which are designed to keep the ship steady and drilling even in waves of up to 9 m. No wonder a Maersk engineer referred to the ship as a ‘giant Black & Decker.’
Drillships have come far from their humble origins in the 1940s, when a surplus US Navy patrol craft was converted and equipped with cantilevered drilling equipment to try and overcome deepwater challenges offshore California. Today, the South Korean and Singaporean shipyards have a stronghold on the US$ 44 billion/yr drillship market, along with producing some of the largest container vessels and rigs. Other large drillship orders from 2013 include: Atwood Oceanics, Inc.’s turnkey construction contract with Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Co., Ltd (DSME) for a fourth ultra-deepwater drillship – the Atwood Archer, to be delivered by 31 December 2015; and the Rowan Reliance, one of Rowan Companies plc’s four ultra-deepwater drillships being constructed by Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd with an expected delivery date at the end of October 2014.
South Korea has managed to hold onto its leading position, despite a perceived threat from China, which can offer lower prices. However, considering the demands placed on ships to be technologically advanced and fuel-efficient, shipbuilding is nowadays a “design and quality” business rather than a labour-driven one.1 South Korean companies, once a lower-cost alternative to European yards, have wisely invested in in-house designers and engineers, helping to position themselves as leaders in this industry.
Of course, not all contracts are awarded to Asian companies. Notably, earlier this autumn, after a six-month design competition, Statoil awarded a contract to Norwegian engineering firm Inocean for the design of the Cat I Drillship, which has been described as the ‘drillship of tomorrow.’ Intended to support Statoil’s Arctic programme, the drillship design includes suitable winterisation and a specific hull design. The contract includes the concept design and option for the FEED (front end engineering design), which is planned to go on until the end of 2014.
“Being developed for arctic operations, we are probably speaking of the most advanced and sophisticated unit evolved within drilling operations,” said Jon Erik Borgen, CEO of Inocean. Looking beyond the oceans, maximising production in oil and gas operations requires a multitude of technology and products. Oilfield Technology correspondent Gordon Cope discusses solutions of all sizes, from sophisticated software to automated drilling rigs, beginning on p. 10.
This issue concludes Oilfield Technology’s sixth year. We’ve got exciting topics planned for 2014 and look forward to another successful year sharing regional insights and technical innovations. Please get in touch if you’d like to propose an article idea or comment on the content. See you in 2014!
Sokje Lee, Analyst, J.P. Morgan, Seoul quoted in ‘The deeper the better’, The Economist, www.economist.com/news/business/21590496-korean-and-singaporean-yards-have-adapted-well-chinas-challenge-deeper-better (Accessed 2 December 2013).