Shuttle tanker designs have evolved to allow offloading from vessels other than FPSOs.
"That service can be done with any type of platform," said Peter Lovie of American Shuttle Tankers following the Society Petroleum Engineers' "Emerging Challenges for Deepwater Oil Transportation in the Gulf of Mexico" workshop in Houston.
Unocal's David Saylor, project manager for deepwater facilities engineering and operations, said there are times when one solution or the other will have a clear advantage.
"There's a very large area of deepwater where there's going to be intense head-to-head competition" between pipelines and shuttle tankers, he said.
In some instances, the best solution may be a hybrid, combining use of shuttle tanker efforts in deeper, more remote waters and pipelines in shallower water.
Steve Smetana, Shell's marketing representative for crude oil, said attendees learned the MMS will study how shuttle tankers are used in the Gulf before deciding if it can apply the current royalty-in-kind system.
There are several issues associated with whether a field will use a shuttle tanker, he said, including schedule, commingling, partner agreement on the transporation concept, weather effects on availability, cost of the tanker and the tariff, quantified risk, and the permitting process.
"No one's really gone down that path, so there's a lot of uncertainty about permitting," Smetana said.
Allen Verret, executive director for the Offshore Operators Committee, said most operators in the Gulf use the solutions they've successfully used in the past, even if technology has been proven in other areas of the world.
"Basically, what we're waiting for in this industry is the right field with the right opportunity," he said.
Lovie said this opportunity might come from fields in the Alaminos Canyon or Walker Ridge portions of the Gulf.