Transportation and Installation in the Gulf of Mexico

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:02

“I really like what is happening in Mexico right now,” says Alfonso Wilson, Dockwise Director for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. “In the past, Pemex did not have the money to reinvest in its operations, but right now there is huge potential because Pemex is intensifying its drill campaign and is planning on having 90 jack-up rigs drilling in shallow water in the near future,” he explains. This will open vast opportunities for companies such as Heerema and Dockwise because all these jack-up rigs will need to be transported to their respective projects, and furthermore, after Pemex finishes drilling those wells it will need to hire transportation and installation companies to transport and install the topsides.

In the past, Pemex has focused on the transportation and installation of topsides through the use of heavy lifting cranes and vessels; however, the company is starting now to consider alternatives. “We are working with Pemex, giving seminars, and training courses to Pemex engineers in order to familiarize them with float-over, but we have not gotten to the point we want to reach even though float- over has been approved by Pemex as a viable technology for topside installations,” explains Wilson.

Even though Dockwise is currently working with Pemex in order to train personnel in the float-over installation of platforms, there also needs to be a change in the engineering design model of the jacket and topside. “The jacket has to be wide enough to allow a vessel to go in between, so the float-over can happen. Other than that, there are just minor changes to the topside,” explains Wilson. Currently, Dockwise is participating in bids with Mexican EPC companies to transport topsides and heavy equipment to shallow water wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

Historically, one of the main challenges in the contracting process is the limited amount of time between the awarding of the contracts and the starting date of the work. “The main problem we face is that since bids are announced on short notice and the installation and transportation projects begin right after, we are not able to compete in Mexico because our vessels are already contracted in other parts of the world, such as in Australia, Africa, and the North Sea,” explains Octavio Navarro Sada, Country Manager of Heerema Marine Contractors. Fortunately for companies like Heerema, Pemex and private companies offering transportation and installation services are starting to offer contracts well in advance, which is great news for transportation and installation companies, claims Navarro Sada, because it gives them the ability to fill in contracts in advance and be able to better plan ahead and understand how their backlog will look in the next 3-5 years.

Competition is fierce because when it comes to shallow water, there are various transportation and installation companies bidding for contracts. Nonetheless, Navarro Sada claims “the difference comes in the lifting capability of the vessels, and the size and weight of the platforms to be installed.” In other words, the larger and heavier the platforms are, the less competition there is. Therefore, if transportation and installation companies want to acquire more contracts they must first develop their capabilities to be able to deal with larger and heavier topsides and equipment. However, Navarro Sada strongly emphasizes that size and weight depend vastly on the varying needs of the client.

Even though shallow water is currently the most appealing market for transportation and installation companies like Heerema and Dockwise, deepwater might eventually close the gap with shallow water because “right now Mexico is in the deepwater exploration phase, but has the potential to really grow in this area. It is incredible how much activity there is in the US Gulf of Mexico, and there is no reason to believe that there fewer oil reservoirs in the south than in the north,” claims Wilson.

Even though heavy lift has been used for deepwater, due to the larger size and weight of the platforms and the equipment needed to produce from deeper wells, Navarro Sada claims heavy lift would no longer suffice. “We currently have the ability to install by heavy lifting anything that is up to 14,000 tonnes; anything over that would require float-over. In Mexico, we have never done a single platform that weights this much – the heaviest has been 9,000 tonnes at Ku-Maloob-Zaap – but in the future we might be able to increase our capabilities to satisfy the growing demand for deepwater platforms.”