OIMT01Since the start of 2010, the drillship fleet has grown 98% and the number of semi-subs capable of drilling in >5,000ft of water has grown 45%. This suggests increasing demand for rigs capable of drilling in deep and ultra-deep water, but how much is currently taking place at these depths?

Rigs In The Middle

The Graph of the Month shows known current water depths in which active drilling rigs are deployed. Whilst jack-ups dominate shallow depths, floaters are drilling mostly in “midwater” (500-5,000ft), where 57% of semi-subs and 45% of drillships are currently deployed.
In deeper water (5,000-7,500ft), 19 >5,000ft semi-subs and 33 drillships are known to be currently drilling. However, only 10% of the active drillship fleet and only 1% of semi-subs are currently deployed in ultra-deepwater. Overall, this means that only half of the active drillships and less than a quarter (24%) of >5,000ft semi-subs are currently located in deep and ultra-deep water. Only 4% of the current floater fleet are currently deployed in ultra-deepwater.

Deeper Potential

Although the current active drilling fleet contains over 105 floaters capable of drilling in >7,500ft water depths, the graph shows that only 9 floaters are currently deployed at such depths. The remaining rigs are therefore deployed in water depths much shallower than their specifications allow.

For example, of the 25 rigs in the current active fleet capable of drilling in water depths 12,000ft or greater, only 5 are currently known to be drilling in ultra-deep water. Of the remainder, 8 are in deepwater and 12 are in midwater. Despite the fleet’s ability to drill in ultra-deepwater, present demand is at mid- and deepwater depths.
The newer generations of floating MDUs have additional advantages in terms of technological sophistication (such as secondary derricks or drillfloor automation), which can make them attractive to operators that might not necessarily need their full depth capabilities. This can make them attractive in midwater harsh environments (e.g. in the North Sea).

Floater Flexibility

However, demand for ultra-deepwater drilling is increasing and expected to continue growing. Bearing this in mind, the orderbook for rigs capable of drilling >5,000ft remains strong (16 semi-subs of this ability and 76 drillships are currently on order). As ultra-deep fields are increasingly explored and developed it is anticipated that a greater share of floaters will be deployed in deeper water, maximising their capabilities.

Ultra-deepwater is expected to be the most rapid source of future demand growth for floating MDUs. However, mid/deepwater demand will remain important. As shown, the existing fleet and orderbook is well equipped to cater for this shift. Depths in which floaters are deployed in the future depend on whether there is investment in next-generation specialist midwater floaters, equipped with the technical innovations of recent ultra-deep rigs. Alternatively, operators may prefer to add to rig supply for ultra-deepwater drilling, which will still provide options for deployment in a broad range of water depths if required.