Archives for posts with tag: deepwater technological

The rise of deepwater E&P constituted a boon for the offshore fleet, helping to drive, for example, 180% and 60% increases in the FPSO and floater fleets from 2000 to 2015. However, deepwater development has lagged exploration, and so the offshore sector is fairly exposed to projects with high breakevens – problematic, given the oil price. But could the downturn actually help deepwater E&P in the long term?

Deepwater Exploration

The first deepwater offshore discovery was not made until 1976, by which point 1,018 shallow water fields had been discovered and 350 brought onstream, and it was only in the late-1990s that deepwater E&P really took off. Oil companies began pushing deeper into the US GoM, while the internationalization of the industry in the 2000s saw a spate of deepwater discoveries off West Africa and Brazil. A robust and rising oil price helped sustain rising deepwater E&P until 2015, with India, Australia and East Africa becoming important frontiers too. The average water depth of global offshore field discoveries passed 200m for the first time in 1996, 500m in 2004 and 800m in 2012, and the number of deepwater discoveries averaged 55 per year from 2005 to 2015.

Deepwater Production

However, as the main graph shows, the mean water depth of discoveries rose much faster than did that of start-ups: the former stood at 734m in 2015, the latter at 377m. Indeed, by 2016, out of a total of 998 deepwater finds, just 27% had started up, with deepwater start-ups averaging 19 per year from 2005 to 2015. The divergence was in large part because technological barriers and cost overheads in deepwater production – subsea, SURF and MOPU – are more complex and expensive than in exploration, and efficiency gains seem to have been more limited to date as well. Deepwater project sanctioning was therefore relatively inhibited, and due to limited sanctioning, the backlog of undeveloped deepwater fields grew at a faster rate than that of shallow water fields, as indicated by the inset graph. Thus over time, the overall backlog of potential projects has become more costly and complex. Indeed, some reports suggest oil project average breakevens have risen by c.270% since 2003.

Deepwater Challenges

This is partly why the offshore outlook is challenged at present: deepwater fields have relatively high breakevens (usually $60-$90/bbl) yet also form a major part of oil companies’ portfolios. Some major oil companies have indicated that 2016 E&P spending cuts are to bite deeper off than onshore, where costs are lower (even for shale, in many cases). In January 2016, Chevron decided to axe outright Buckskin, a US GoM project in a water depth of 1,816m with a breakeven of c.$72/bbl. ConocoPhilips, meanwhile, is planning to exit deepwater altogether.

However, in order to make deepwater viable again, many companies are trying instead to cut project costs. Statoil, for example, has reduced the CAPEX of Johan Castberg by 48% and the breakeven by 40%. Some cost savings (in day rates, for instance) are likely to be cyclical; others, such as in subsea fabrication, yielding improved deepwater project economics, are likely to be more lasting. So while exposure to deepwater projects is clearly a challenge given the current oil price, cost cutting now could be to the benefit of deepwater E&P in the long run.

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E&P offshore India can be divided into two very distinct species of activity: the one species is typified by shallow water exploration using jack-up drilling rigs, and by multi-phase fixed platform developments; the other species by ultra-deepwater exploration using floaters. The first is concentrated off the west coast, the second off the east coast. But when it comes to CAPEX, which species of activity sits at the top of the food chain in these lean times?

Shallow Water Ancestry

Mumbai High is the ancestor and primordial archetype of the vast majority of field developments offshore India today. Discovered in 1974 in the Mumbai Basin off the country’s west coast, the field was brought onstream in 1976 and was initially exploited via 4 fixed platforms in water depths of around 85m. Subsequent expansions have seen this number rise to 159, with 8 more platforms being fabricated for the Ph.3 redevelopment projects at the field. For the first 30 years of Indian offshore E&P, exploration was focused in the Mumbai Basin while development followed the pattern at Mumbai High. Hence, as of July 2015, 94 fields had been discovered off India’s west coast, all in shallow waters, accounting for 48% of Indian offshore discoveries. Of these 94 fields, 39 are active and 11 are under development. The basin also accounts for 301 active fixed platforms, as well as 13% (18 units) of the jack-up fleet in the Middle East/ISC region. With EOR and redevelopment work underway, the Mumbai Basin remains an important area of offshore activity.

Deepwater Diversification

However, since 2002 the Indian offshore sector has bifurcated to produce a very different species of offshore activity. Exploration campaigns in the east coast Krishna Godavari Basin resulted in 50 new discoveries in water depths >500m (and 51 shallow water finds). Amongst these was KG-DWN-2005/1-A, a field in a water depth of 3,166m, making it the deepest find (in terms of water depth) to date globally. At the height of KG Basin exploration, 12 floaters were active in the country. All this being said, Indian deepwater activity is much less advanced than shallow water E&P: just two deepwater fields are in production and none are currently under development. As a corollary, there are almost no subsea installations offshore India and just one active MOPU.

An Evolutionary Hiatus?

There are, however, 25 ‘probable’ deepwater field developments, including some potentially prolific fields. However, development seems to have been inhibited by the example of KG-D6 (Dhirubhai 1&3), a deepwater (850m) gas field which has shown precipitous production decline. India’s offshore sector is also dominated by indigenous companies like the government-controlled ONGC, who seemingly lack the deepwater technological or operational expertise of many IOCs. At the same time, there are still 88 potential shallow water fields, as well as plenty of scope for EOR at older fields – the sort of projects where Indian oil companies have substantial experience.

Opening up of the upstream sector, as is being attempted in Mexico, might be one means to adapt to the challenges of the “P” of deepwater E&P in India. However, this does not appear to be on the cards for the immediate future. So for the time being, given the hostile conditions of the weaker oil price environment, shallow water activity seems set to thrive best.

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