Stolt, armed with ETPM, using Warri, Lobito yards to expand in West Africa

Projects include Girassol, Tchebeli, EA, N. Memba, Benguela, Sanha

French offshore contractor ETPM has come through an uncertain spell, while parent group GTM Entrepose sought to dispense with its services. An attempted takeover proved too much for Global Industries to handle. Late last year, the reins passed instead to ETPM's subsea rival Stolt Comex Seaway.

The latter wasted little time restructuring the two companies into a single organization named Stolt Offshore. ETPM's North Sea operations are now being supervised totally from Aberdeen, but its Paris headquarters have been retained to mastermind group operations in West Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe, in recognition of ETPM's recent progress in these regions. This operation also now has access to Stolt Offshore's wide construction vessel spread, allowing it to pitch for more ambitious EPCI assignments.

Prior to the takeover, ETPM had reassumed loner status following a long-time partnership with J. Ray McDermott. Since the split, it had built up a new fabrication facility in Lobito, Angola with Sonangol, as well as converting its DLB Polaris vessel for deepwater J-lay. Last December, Bureau Veritas certified the Polaris as a Class 3 dynamically positioned vessel, suitable for construction and installation duty in water depths of over 2,000 meters.

Almost immediately, it went to work in this new mode on Chevron's North Nemba waterflood project off Angola, installing various modules and four infield flowlines. In January, it moved north to Congo to lay the 23 km Tchibe* pipe-in-pipe line for Elf Nigeria. The pipe sections had to be laid at a tension of 55 tons, but this presented few problems for the newly converted vessel.

Pipelines, umbilicals

Between July and September, the Polaris is contracted to lay rigid flowlines, flexible risers, and umbilicals for Triton Energy's fasttrack Ceiba development off Equatorial Guinea. Stolt Offshore is having to plan ahead, even though the full scope of the work remains unclear (Triton is still appraising two of the four proposed development wells). The base plan is to install eight flowlines - 60 km in total - which will be insulated externally with 30 mm thick polypropylene foam, and which will be connected to four manifolds at a water depth of 850 meters. ETPM's previous record for this type of work was 650 meters on Zafiro for Mobil, also offshore Equatorial Guinea.

The Polaris, in tandem with the Seaway Falcon, will also install 350-meter flexible risers between the flowlines and the Ceiba FPSO, in addition to 60 km of control umbilicals supplied by Oceaneering Multiflex. These will be connected to at least two of the wells during this operation.

Later in the year, the Polaris will be fitted with its new J-lay ramp, currently under construction by Radoil in the US, in readiness for duty on Girassol Phase 1, where ETPM was already partnering Stolt Comex Seaway in the Girassol Subsea Alliance. The Polaris will lay 12-in. water and gas injection lines, plus subsea manifolds and suction anchors for the riser towers (the latter fabricated in Lobito), in water depths of up to 1,350 meters.

Development pause

In addition to Lobito, ETPM has maintained a long-established yard at Warri in Nigeria. Both sites are working on three platforms for Shell's shallow water EA project offshore the Niger Delta. Angola, in contrast, is undergoing a development lull, Girassol apart. Further project awards were suspended last year due to uncertainties over the oil price.

In the shallow water areas, prospects for new small platforms include a Chevron development in Block 0 and Texaco's Espadarte. According to Auzelou. "We can produce jackets at Lobito in six months. Decks take longer, because the local subcontractors are not quite up to scratch. However, more companies are moving into Angola and the situation is improving."

Pre-Girassol, Chevron's Kuito in Block 14 is the deepest water project completed to date off Angola, in 400 meters. Belize/Benguela is the next development candidate in this block, possibly at the end of this year. The partners remain undecided on the optimum scheme - this could be a mix of surface and subsea wellheads produced through a mini-TLP or an FPSO with an FSO, depending on where the processing takes place. Recoverable reserves are thought to be several hundred million barrels.

The major prizes to come can be divided into giant deepwater and giant gas developments. In Block 17, Elf and ABB have concluded a preliminary study for Dalia. The field is similar in size to Girassol, so would probably call for a floater with 2 million bbl of storage. Also, Dalia's oil is heavier than Girassol's, and this is expected to impose special insulation requirements. The reservoir is not deep enough for deviated wells, which may push the balance towards subsea wells.

Other discoveries

As for the other discoveries in this block - Rosa, Liria, Orquidea, and Tulipa - the oil quality is good on the first two, but the reserves are smaller.

In deepwater Block 15, Exxon is contemplating a series of spars for its various discoveries, along the lines of Diana in the Gulf of Mexico. Duplication, Exxon theorizes, may not be the best solution, but it does cut costs.

Stolt Offshore has held exploratory talks with Brown and Root, ABB, Aker, and Technip-Geoproduction over three concepts under review for Block 15 - a TLP, a spar, and the TPG 3300 deep draft semisubmersible. Any of these platforms could be assembled largely in Lobito, "although we would need to expand our quays and put in more cranes to handle 6,000-ton modules," Jean-Francois Auzelou, Stolt Offshore's Commercial Manager, Angola says.

Angola flaring

For these new developments, Sonangol has outlawed flaring, and also wants solutions to be found for all existing developments that currently flare by 2010. The problem, as elsewhere in West Africa, is harnessing the gas to commercial effect. According to Auzelou, studies are under way to gather all the gas from discoveries in Texaco's Block 2, Block 15, and 17, and probably also BP Amoco's Block 18 and Elf's Block 3, via a giant subsea pipeline network. However, this project may not come into being for another six years.

A much earlier start is anticipated for Chervon's Sanha/Bomboko oil and gas development in Block 0. This would involve an FSO stationed on the Sanha Field receiving 100,000 b/d of LPG, exported from a nearby processing platform. Markets for the gas and project financing have yet to be finalized, but the project could go forward this year.

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