In search of a deepwater discovery

The Gulf of Mexico is one rig shy of its all-time high, according to Chris Oynes of the U.S. Minerals Management Service.
Currently, 46 exploration rigs are abuzz in the Gulf in water depths of 1,000 feet or more. Oynes expects the record of 47 rigs to be shattered soon.
“We’ve literally been inching up one rig at a time over the last several weeks,” he said.
Rigs in the Gulf aren’t exactly a new thing, but a Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) facility would be if it gets the green light later this year. Oynes said several companies – both domestic and international – have approached the MMS about using FPSOs for their new deepwater developments and he expects to see a formal request before the year is out.
Typically, oil and natural gas production platforms are mounted or moored to the ocean floor, making the massive steel structures fairly permanent installations. Oil and gas flowing forth from wells is then transported to shore through pipelines.
By contrast, FPSOs are ship-shaped facilities that can produce oil from an underwater well, store it within the hold, and then offload it into a shuttle tanker that ferries it back to land.
In addition to taking half the time to construct as a traditional platform, FPSOs can pull up stakes and leave before a hurricane hits, ensuring the asset won’t get mangled and eliminating the need to evacuate workers by helicopter.
Although there are more than 100 FPSOs in operation in places like Eastern Canada, the North Sea, the South China Sea and Brazil, none have been used in the Gulf yet.
Oynes declined to name the companies that have approached the MMS about FPSOs. Petrobras America President Renato Bertani confirmed his company is seriously considering the option for its Cascade development with partners Devon Energy and operator BHP Billiton, as well as for two other deepwater prospects.