Emphasis shifting from heavy lifts to precision placement
Heeremac positioning its vessels to meet changing development needs
With a fierce, dismissive sweep of his arm Heeremac's commercial and technology director, Jan Meek, emphatically makes his point:
"No, no. That's a general misunderstanding we are confronted with almost daily. We don't install platforms, not in the old sense. We render services to the offshore industry."
Much to Meek's relief, some clients have already got to grips with Heeremac's new strategy. Shell Oil in the US, for example, has allowed Heeremac to demonstrate its capabilities three times: two years ago with the installation of the Auger TLP foundation, and now in 1996 with Mars and in 1997 with the Ram Powell TLP.
"Heavy lifts are not involved," Meek points out, "yet still we use the Balder for these jobs. Why? Imagine the Ram Powell water depth of 960 metres. Piles of 84-in. diameter must be installed with an overall length of 120 metres. We will position these piles on the exact spot with a tolerance of just two feet horizontally and 1.0 degrees vertically."
Such meticulous placements require perfect planning. With its lift capacity, two cranes, extensive deck load capacity and its ability to work even in bad weather, the Balder is well qualified to do the job. And therein lies Meek's argument. The work could perhaps be performed by a smaller vessel, but the planning would be less attractive and reliable.
"The piles and tendons are loaded on the Balder deck when the weather is good," he explains. "From then on, the weather does not really matter. It is not the lifting capacity of the vessel but its sea state behavior which makes the difference, as well as the deckload capacity. The Balder type of vessel enables the total duration of the installation to be shortened."
Edwin Goldman, HeereMac's business strategy and development manager, offers another example of changing requirements from the South China Sea, where last year the ACT joint venture completed the Huizhou development. "Cooperating with Kvaerner, Earl & Wright in the US and Sembawang Shipyard in Singapore, we were able to offer a concept which was unconventional for this area.
"We proposed to utilize optimally the lift capacity of our vessel, the Hermod, and to install the jackets by lifting them instead of launching them from a barge. This resulted in reduced risks and significantly less steel.
"We also optimized the jacket design and weight. Topsides were more integrated to minimize offshore hook-up. As a result of these improvements and the Hermod's excellent workability, the client was able to start production several months earlier than with a conventional approach."
A third example of new oil company thinking completes the list. Understanding the advantage of hiring a contractor on a long-term basis rather than for individual jobs, Shell Expro UK commissioned HeereMac a few years ago for all heavy lift jobs for the entire North Sea Brent Field refurbishment project using the DB102.
"Each year we do a part of the work involved in this multi-year contract," says Goldman. Brent, which will be completed in 1998, involves the removal of 23 structures such as modules and flares, weighing from 1 to over 1,000 tonnes, and the installation of 19 new units weighing from 2 to over 3,000 tonnes.
"We don't really think in terms of contracts for particular jobs or use of hardware," says Meek. "we think in terms of services. A platform must be installed and the question of how we do it and with what type of vessel should not make any difference to the client as long as the job is done properly. Therefore, as was the case in China, we look for cooperation with other parties in order to offer total packages to the market."
Meek identifies three trends which have brought about these changes. "The first is the shift in the Capex/Opex axis in favor of the latter. Second is the increasing regional spread of offshore investments. Third, the industry is looking for alternative solutions such as TLPs, FPSOs and subsea completions.
"On the one hand this threatens our market position. We prefer, however, to see it as an opportunity. Overall investments by the industry worldwide are somewhat stable, so there is work as long as you can make bids which answer today's demands."
A newbuild vessel with the dimensions of, for example, the Balder would be considered somewhat overdesigned for jobs such as TLP pile positioning and tendon installation. "Of course," says Meek, "but we have these types of vessels and the challenge is to make them a valuable part of a competitive total package. With their versatility and workability, the total project costs and time can be limited."
A couple of years ago, Heeremac decided it needed the presence of at least one heavy lift vessel in the major offshore regions. The DB102 is permanently in the North Sea, the Balder is in the Atlantic (Brazil, West Africa and the Gulf of Mexico) and the Hermod in the Far East. The future of the DB101, however, is still under consideration.
"Our presence in the Far East is quite recent," Goldman points out. "One reason is that the local gas market is expanding rapidly which results in more complex topsides and longer and more complicated hook-up jobs. In the past, field characteristics did not warrant the use of our methods, but gradually the clients began to realize that it can be economically advantageous to use our methods and equipment."
The question is whether Heeremac can get involved in a project early enough to influence the construction concepts. Indonesia's Natuna development is a major challenge in this respect. According to Goldman, various approaches are under consideration here.
"First of all, this could involve not only HeereMac as a service company, but also the other parts of the Heerema group. A large number of components will have to be fabricated simultaneously and no single yard will be able to cope with all the work. So we are thinking of a package involving our yards, the Dockwise heavy transport vessel, our barges - if the topsides are mated onto the jackets - and also our crane vessels if installation is to be done by lifting or should commissioning be required offshore."
Alternative markets are being investigated: however, platform abandonment does not generate much excitement. In 1995 HeereMac issued a document in which it opined that the construction of any equipment on top of the existing crane vessels for the purpose of abandonment would be self-defeating.
"It's a lousy market," says Meek. "The money involved is not productive, because every dollar spent in abandonment cannot be invested in new developments. We offer to do the work for a low price in periods where our vessels are idle. With the present utilization rate of some 50%, there is plenty of time. Abandonment will never be a goldmine."
Copyright 1996 Offshore. All Rights Reserved.