The Business of
FPSOs, Shuttle Tankers and Peter Lovie

"Why have there been
  no FPSOs in GOM?"

In recent years people would often ask "Why are there no FPSOs in GOM?"

Rick Meyer of Shell answered the question in 2002 with slide 5 of his talk at the FPSO Global Workshop: "Economics, Economics, Economics."

Rick Meyer, Shell

As a gauge on potential future deepwater developments, MMS publishes a weekly list of deepwater drilling activity on their web site.

The American Bureau of Shipping in the Spring 2003 issue of their house magazine ABS Surveyor wrote "Lovie, who opened the North American office of FPSO pioneer Bluewater Offshore Production Systems and headed operation for seven years, is known around the Gulf region as "Mr. FPSO" for his tireless advocacy of FPSO solutions.

However it would take another four years before the first FPSO was contracted for operation in GoM.

During 2006, the chatter in the industry became louder concerning the possibilities of commitments being made for FPSOs and Shuttling for GOM. Finally on August 15, 2006, a press release from Devon Energy announced their increased participation in the Cascade development and how they expect an FPSO to be used there. A second press release from Petrobras, also dated August 15, confirms the first expected use of an FPSO in GOM in a phased development in 8,200 feet water depth for the combined development of Cascade (Petrobras:Devon 50:50) and Chinook (Petrobras:Total 2/3: 1/3), and operated by Petrobras.

As the industry moves out into Walker Ridge with its Lower Tertiary rocks that have not been produced from before, the idea of an FPSO to serve as an Early Production System and mitigate the ultimate field development risks with the prior use of an EPS received attention in the GoM deepwater community.

The use of the first FPSO in GoM at Cascade/Chinook is thus about containing risks. The partners at the Cascade/Chinook development were facing serious risks: it was not clear how the formations would produce, since it was the first Lower Tertiary development.

The use of an FPSO as an Early Production System meant that it was less of a gamble than building a complete full field development system from the start.  This was not any bold leap, but instead the least risky option, a pragmatic choice of the kind that Petrobras is very good at. This option allowed Petrobras' and its partners to adjust their plans for future development as well results became clearer. The Asset Manager for Petrobras did an excellent presentation at SPE in Houston in January 2009 which explained the field development story at Cascade/Chinook

More announcements were made in 2007, including the sanctioning of the Cascade/Chinook development by Petrobras and its partners, followed by execution of time charters for the FPSO and shuttle tankers for production at this location.

Industry news confirms that the first FPSO will indeed make its way into the GoM and be installed in mid 2010. Thus it will have taken 14 years for the first FPSO to enter service in the US GoM.

Some comment that the use of an FPSO for full field development elsewhere in GOM is not a clear question with the expensive high risk wells required and instead a field development solution with Direct Vertical Access (DVA) to the wells may be preferred despite the apparent efficiency of an FPSO in some of these remote ultra deep areas. Time will tell!