Offshore Oil Drilling: The Challenges, Benefits, and Types
In 1947, the first true offshore oil well began operations in the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn’t much larger than your average tennis court. The crew slept on repurposed naval barges left over from the Second World War. The well drilled into the seabed, a mere 15 feet below water level.
Today, oil and gas companies drill over ten times deeper to reach the black gold that runs the modern world. The wells we drill into today contain billions of barrels of oil. Getting into the reservoir and accessing all that oil isn’t a simple task anymore. A hundred different assets come into play. From barges to submersible vehicles, the offshore oil drill is an operation on a grand scale.
As with any operation on this scope, challenges arise. Oil engineers can’t afford to make mistakes. When they do, disasters on the level of the infamous British Petroleum oil spill happen. Drilling is a very precise, risky business. The challenges and safety procedures faced and overcome on a daily basis seem terrifying.
Common Offshore Drilling Challenges
Offshore drilling engineers can’t afford to make any errors in their calculations. Every millimeter requires extremely complex measurements on a 3D scale. Engineers use advanced software to create seismic images, where an approximate 3D image of the reservoir and the seabed is generated using sound waves. The process is similar to how bats “see”. Each piece of data is processed, reviewed, checked, and rechecked multiple times to make sure that it made no mistakes.
Steering Clear of Environmental Issues
The marine environment is very fragile. An oil spill of any magnitude can result in the deaths of entire species of marine life. Before an oil and gas company begins setting up their rig and other assets, they assess the impact of the operation at that site. The assessment includes a list of marine life in the area, sediment and water analytics, and more. The crew uses this data to reduce the negative impact throughout the drilling project.
Drilling for oil doesn’t involve a single rig operating independently. Hundreds of variables come into play at any one time. Each offshore rig is a small city. There are cafeterias, recreational centers, gyms, living quarters, and a large crew of engineers, scientists, operators, and support staff. Human resource management is just the tip of the iceberg, too.
Other assets come into play at any given time – helicopters, medical equipment and staff, supply ships, tankers, and transport vessels included. From repairs to resupply, the standard oil-drilling project is a monumental task.
Oil engineers use advanced asset management software to digitize, visualize, and manage all the moving parts to make sure they work together like a well-oiled machine. Software like FieldAP helps drilling operations manage their costs and perform visual field development easily.
Dealing with Government Regulations
Governments are under increasing pressure from global communities to reduce their carbon footprint. Part of this initiative is to reduce oil consumption. The typical target for carbon reduction is, of course, the offshore drilling rigs off the coasts of different countries. Firms today are regulated very strictly and have a single directive from the government – reduce emissions and pollution while drilling for natural resources.
Improving Workplace Safety
The movie Deepwater Horizon told the compelling true story of the ill-fated oilrig of the same name. The explosion and subsequent oil spill resulted in the deaths of 11 crewmembers and releasing over 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Safety aboard an oilrig and its supporting assets is of paramount importance. The fallout of a breach in safety standards can lead to death and catastrophic consequences. Oil and gas companies are constantly working on new ways to boost safety procedures on board these structures.
In many ways, asset management software helps them do this. Software like FieldAP allows managers at oil and gas firms to ensure that all variables are under control at all times. They can manage weight, storage space, and other factors to keep them all within safety limits.
Since preserving the lives of workers aboard rigs is so important, here are some useful procedures to which many oilrigs stick:
3 Safety Procedures for Oil Rig Workers
The Machines are More Important
This seems a little cold, but the truth is the machines that operate aboard a rig are the key to survival. Offshore rigs are very inaccessible. The only way for an injured worker to get urgent and advanced medical help is for a helicopter to airlift them out. Getting to a hospital can take up to an hour, greatly increasing the chances of a severe injury turning fatal.
Faulty machinery is the biggest cause of serious injuries for oil workers in any situations. Repairing and maintaining machinery regularly significantly reduces the frequency with which they kick the bucket. Protecting the machines protects human life.
Well-lit Areas Save Lives
Offshore rigs have the disadvantage of being very dark indeed. Storms are frequent; there is no indirect lighting at sea. Most operations in oilrigs are done inside. Every time a light goes out, the world is plunged into darkness. If this happens while workers operate machinery, the risk of injury multiplies tenfold.
Reliable, well-lit working areas are the key to keeping the crew of a rig injury-free. Oil and gas companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on internal lighting – and it pays off! This is where cost management software like FieldAP comes in handy, too: that much lighting running almost 24/7 can be very expensive if it isn’t managed well.
Everything Must Be Anti-Slip
At sea, briny water gets everywhere. Even if sealed hatches protect the workspaces, water will find a way in. Saltwater combined with the oil mist that is as much a part of the surfaces of a rig as the people in it is a potent mix. The resulting mixture is so slippery it feels like walking on ice. All it takes is one misstep to fall and break a few bones, or worse – hit a machine that’s running.
Slip-proofing all surfaces inside an oilrig saves lives and reduces costs for oil companies in the long run. These slip-resistant surfaces are more expensive to install, but can cut expenses in half for emergency medical evacuation of injured workers and their resultant care costs.
Types of Offshore Rigs
Offshore structures vary with the depth of the reservoir. Common towers and platform types include:
- Fixed platform: built for shallow drilling (up to 1500ft). The platform is fixed to the seabed using piles and steel legs. The platform is raised above the water like a house on stilts.
- Compliant towers: drilling between 1500ft and 3000ft. They’re similar to fixed platform rigs with piles for foundations. They have a more ductile design to allow the tower legs to bend with the horizontal movement of the sea currents without breaking.
- Sea Star: smaller platform that works between 500ft and 3500ft. Used to drill deep into the seabed for smaller reservoirs of oil. It’s a more cost-friendly option for an oil and gas drilling company. The structure isn’t anchored to the seabed using fixed foundations.
- Floating Production System: drilling between 1500ft and 6000ft. It’s semi-submersible and uses wire and chain connector to anchor the structure to the seabed. These anchors also resist the movement of the platform.
- Tension leg platform: 1500ft to 7000ft. Uses the same concept as the Floating Production System with high tension cables to support the platform’s movement.
- SPAR platform: 2000ft to 10000ft. Uses a vertical support cylinder to reach the ocean floor. The weight of the cylinder keeps the platform steady. It’s also anchored using up to 20 high tension lines.
Offshore Drilling Has Many, Many Benefits
Environmentalists and advocates for carbon elimination are adamant that offshore drilling is harmful and has no real benefits. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In many ways, offshore drills prevent further harm to the environment and the economy of different countries.
Seep Oil and Gas Elimination
Oil and natural gas reservoirs around the world are full to bursting point with the raw materials. In fact, this oil and gas seeps out in small quantities over time because there isn’t enough space in the reservoir for them. You can visualize this as an oil spill happening in super slow motion.
The oil that seeps out like this is the same as the oil that is mined by the offshore rigs. However, the seepage can pollute beaches and kill marine life naturally. When an offshore operation starts taking crude oil out of a reservoir, it reduces the pressure inside that reservoir, significantly reducing the rate at which the oil and gas seeps out.
Today, oil drills don’t just drill down into a reservoir. Slant and horizontal drilling are both techniques used to reach more remote sections of natural reservoirs. These remote areas tend to have more internal pressure because they’re untouched (they’re called seep zones).
If you’re an environmentalist, you might be glad to know that offshore drilling actually reduced the global methane emission rate over the last 40 years, helping to reduce greenhouse gases and the carbon footprint humanity leaves behind.
Offshore drilling provides a massive, much-needed boost to the economy of any country in which the drilling occurs. Every new drilling operation opens up new jobs and employment opportunities for skilled workers and managers in the industry. The new opportunities aren’t limited to the oil and gas sector, either.
The shipping and logistics industry also benefits greatly. New transport and shipping routes open up, more equipment is requisitioned, and everyone benefits. A good examples of the economic benefits of offshore drilling is Russia’s economy boom due to its drilling operations, which led to the creation of a new middle class of citizens.
The Energy Industry
Whether you agree with it or not, oil is the single biggest source of energy in the world today. Crude oil is converted into various fuels used by nearly 90% of vehicles on the streets around the world. We consume 80 billion barrels of oil a year as a species. Oil is efficient too – a cup of petrol can power a standard automobile for 10 minutes. It’s easy to process, refine, and distribute. Oil helps the energy industry; it will continue to do so for the near future.
Offshore vs. Onshore Drilling
Offshore drilling offers many benefits, but is far more complex than its onshore counterpart. One of the biggest differences between the two is the equipment used to create the drilling equipment. Offshore drilling rigs need stability above all else. The rigs are basically floating in the sea – they need to be kept as stable as possible. Depending on the depth of the reservoir, different methods are used to achieve this stability. Lower depths use a standard fixed platform, but deeper drills are generally floating with stabilizers to keep the roll at a minimum.
Employees Don’t Leave
It’s not the Hotel California, but the typical offshore rig is a city. Employees live there for weeks, months, and sometimes a year while working there. In onshore operations, the worker can clock in and out like at any other job. Offshore workers aren’t so lucky. They get paid a lot more, but sacrifice a good family life for it.
Drilling in deep waters is expensive because it’s just so difficult. Almost 60% of the overall expenses goes towards the drill, equipment, and operation. This is compared to the 30% of cost that the typical onshore operation uses.
A standard onshore rig produces as much as 4000 barrels of crude oil every day. This may seem like a lot, but it pales in comparison to the 50,000 barrels that the average offshore drilling operation makes each day. This volume is consistent, too – offshore rigs produce this volume over the course of 20 years at times.
Offshore drilling is an incredibly complicated, massively beneficial venture. Running an operation requires great control over manpower, resources, assets, and costs. Software like FieldAP does exactly this – allowing oil and gas companies to micromanage every aspect of a project with extreme accuracy and increased ease.