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Shell's Ultra-Deepwater Ready Once Economy, Demand Rebound

Shell Oil Co. said last week its new Perdido Development in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), which is in the deepest waters of any such facility in the world, will help answer new calls for natural gas and oil supply that are expected to come once the global economy turns around.

Shell said it has completed installation of the drilling and production platform atop a 555-foot cylindrical spar floating in about 8,000 feet of water 200 miles from Houston in an isolated sector of the GOM.

"Perdido is a technological tour de force that is opening up a new frontier for global oil and gas production," said Russ Ford, Shell's technology vice president for the Americas. "Once the global economy recovers, the energy challenge will return with a vengeance, and new sources of energy will be required. Producing oil safely and responsibly this far out and this deep should allay concerns about industry access to the 85% of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf [OCS] that remains undeveloped. Perdido and the OCS represent considerable potential to boost U.S. and global energy security."

Shell said the Perdido project, of which it holds a 35% interest and operates on behalf of partners BP plc (27.5%) and Chevron Corp. (37.5%), demonstrates the time commitment and technology necessary to expand the ultra-deepwater frontier. Begun with a lease sale in 1996, Shell had to pioneer several technologies and operational innovations before it could launch commercial development in 2006 (see NGI, Oct. 30, 2006). That year, due to intense worldwide demand, Shell had to lease one of only two vessels in the world capable of lifting the 9,500-ton topsides onto the spar.

Over the next several months, approximately 270 personnel living on the platform and on a "flotel" alongside it will complete the myriad of tasks in the commissioning and hookup required to produce first oil. The facility is capable of handling 130,000 boe/d. To get the oil and gas to market required installing 77 miles of oil export pipelines and 107 miles of gas export pipelines in a remote part of the GOM over very rugged sea floor terrain to connect to the existing offshore pipeline infrastructure.

The Perdido Development has already set a world water depth record in drilling and completing a subsea well 9,356 feet (1.77 miles) below the water's surface. The project intends to drill an even deeper well at 9,627 feet. Nine polyester mooring lines averaging more than two miles in length now hold the 50,000-ton floating structure in place, which will be nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower when fully operational.

The Perdido Development includes a common processing hub that incorporates drilling capability and functionality to gather, process and export production within a 30-mile radius of the facility. This concept will provide regional synergies, Shell said, while reducing cost and lowering risk as well as reducing the number and size of the facilities and operations in this challenging frontier area, resulting in a lower environmental impact than would otherwise be achieved. Shell also said 10 innovative systems were designed to make Perdido a leader in health and safety.

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