McDermott-ETPM West steers course towards deepwater construction

As field developments in the western hemisphere plunge ever deeper, ETPM International is remolding itself as an all-round deepwater contractor. Conversions or newbuild additions are planned for its worldwide vessel fleet, operated by the McDermott-ETPM joint venture. Construction yards within this venture are also adapting to the expected influx of floating platforms into the Gulf of Guinea. But shallow water developments are by no means dead off West Africa, and the venture anticipates a new

May 1st, 1997

As field developments in the western hemisphere plunge ever deeper, ETPM International is remolding itself as an all-round deepwater contractor. Conversions or newbuild additions are planned for its worldwide vessel fleet, operated by the McDermott-ETPM joint venture.

Construction yards within this venture are also adapting to the expected influx of floating platforms into the Gulf of Guinea. But shallow water developments are by no means dead off West Africa, and the venture anticipates a new fabrication center will be needed to service upcoming projects.

ETPM International manages the JV's services off Africa, South America, the North Sea and the Mediterranean. Large diameter pipelayers DLB 1601 and LB200 have been upgraded for North Sea duty, while the small diameter reel-layer Norlift recently brought its technology for the first time to West Africa.

As an illustration of the changing workload, Norlift has just completed installation of 30 km of small diameter lines for Mobil's Zafiro Phase II project off Equatorial Guinea. Phase I consisted of subsea wells tied back to the FPSO in up to 200 meters of water. However, for the much deeper second phase, McDermott-ETPM persuaded Mobil, via an attractive package, to accept reel-laid rigid pipe, a first-such application in West Africa.

The first rigid pipe reel was loaded onto the Norlift at the spool facility in Ardersier, Scotland. Once that was installed on Zafiro, Norlift headed to Port Gentil, Gabon where, under an unusual transfer operation, it collected the second, 1,170t reel directly from a cargo barge. Another McDermott-ETPM vessel, the DLB Polaris, performed the reel transfer in between the Norlift and the cargo barge.

Two 8-in. lines were then laid from the FPSO to the Zafiro West template, with separate 8-in. and 6-in. lines installed to the Topacio template in 480 meters of water. The final link to the well, down to 600m, was managed through two CSO flexible lines. Polaris also lifted topside modules onto the FPSO which will help double its production capacity to 90.000b/d.

Multipurpose vessel

According to Antoine Borelli, vice-president for business planning and strategy at ETPM International, six other deepwater West African fields are currently candidates for fast-track development. McDermott-ETPM is planning accordingly. "With a multipurpose and DP-equipped vessel in West Africa, field construction and installation offshore Brazil would also be within reach."

A medium-size newbuild is under consideration for this role, but other vessels in the joint venture's existing fleet could also be upgraded, such as the DLB Polaris or the CBL 101. The multipuprose duties would include lifting, installation, pipelaying and possibly subsea well workovers, in alliance with a drilling contractor.

For deepwater pipelay, the new vessel might be configured for flexibles and reeled rigid pipe, as well as welding of rigid sections onboard, depending on the required pipeline length and diameter. In preparation, ETPM International is performing tests this year to prove the feasibility of extending current ductility standards for steel tubes.

Financing a new vessel, or an acquisition, could prove problematic. Coflexip Stena Offshore had to raise $100 million for its deepwater pipelayer Sunrise. One course of action might be to float part of ETPM's shares on the Stock Market. Another approach could be to look for long-term contracts for the planned vessel, as CSO did in Brazil, to trigger the necessary funds.

Borel* adds that in the long-term, a dedicated well-servicing vessel is another possibility for the company in the South Atlantic, suitable for 1,000 meter depth operations. The probable conversion (it would not be one of McDermott-ETPM's existing barges) might cost around $20 million. But advance notice of several months would be required for contracts, in order to set aside time for equipment adjustments. At the moment, says Borelli, operators in West Africa are not ready to discuss this, not having had experience of deepwater well workovers.

As well as supporting deepwater developments, McDermott-ETPM is keen to direct FPSO schemes offshore West Africa. To this end it has formed an alliance with mooring system specialist Sofec called Floating Production Contractors. The alliance will have access to subsea production systems designed by Konsgberg Offshore, a sibling of Sofec within the FMC corporation.

Together they will offer complete turnkey solutions including subsea equipment and control systems, FPSOs, metering equipment and loading systems. The FPSO could be bought outright by the client or leased.

Platform build-up

Turning to mainstream platform construction, McDermott-ETPM West encountered growing activity in West Africa last year. According to Eric Hansen, commercial manager for Nigeria, "the bids did not stop coming in. The higher oil price proved very beneficial."

To date projects have been serviced by the joint venture's construction yards in Jebel A* (UAE), Warri (Nigeria) and Port Gentil. However, with a new enclave of platform-based developments forecast for Angola, McDermott-ETPM West wants to be closer to the action and a new fabrication and service base is being considered along the Gulf of Guinea coast. According to Hansen, "Opportunities can be predicted easily to evolve from traditional water depths into deep water, and we want to be ready when such projects materialize."

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