Offshore Design in the Middle East and Asia

Oil & Gas IQ

The events currently taking place in the Gulf of Mexico have served to highlight the importance of good offshore design, both in the United States and beyond.

Countries in the Middle East and Asia rely heavily on the upstream oil industry to support their economy, meaning serious consideration has to be given to the quality of offshore design.

The upstream oil industry is also increasingly required to take into account environmental factors when designing and locating rigs.


New projects beginning within the Asian region often have a number of individual considerations to take into account, such as the Aramco offshore development in Saudi Arabia.

The wells are located in the shallow waters off the countries east coast and require the construction of a causeway across Manifa Bay, as well as drilling islands for oil producer and water injector wells, and offshore platforms.

Environmental Considerations for the Upstream Oil Industry

Sakhalin Energy has also previously had to incorporate environmental issues within its offshore design in the far-east region of Russia, when it was required to reroute offshore pipelines to protect an endangered whale species.

A report by the World Conservation Union (WCU) into western gray whales identified the possible impact that offshore activities from the upstream oil industry could have on migration patterns in the area around SakhalinIsland.

Estimates from 2005 suggest the gas which is available for extraction from the site is expected to total up to 6.5 billion barrels for the next 20 years or more, making it a vital asset for Russia.

Ian Craig, chief executive officer of Sakhalin Energy, explained that the key was finding "a balance between meeting regional energy needs, contributing to Russia's economic development and protecting these wonderful creatures."

The WCU's report on the matter also influenced the location of the second platform in the Piltun-Astokhskoye oil and associated gas field, which is part of the biggest single integrated oil and gas project ever undertaken.

Craig explained: "We must minimise sub-surface and blow-out risks, and this steers us to the location we have chosen. The platform is 7km away from the edge of the feeding area and we are confident our mitigation measures can offset the potential impacts."

Drilling Deeper

The gradual exhaustion of easily accessible reserves mean that the upstream oil industry now must consider moving further and deeper offshore, which represents its own design challenges.

This year Shell started production at the Perdido oil field in the Gulf of Mexico. The Perdido platform is located at depths 50 percent greater than any previous offshore platform at approximately 8,000 feet below the surface.

Over a shelf life of 25 years, the Perdido well is expected to produce enough oil each day to fuel 500 cars for 15 years, making the ability of the platform to withstand high pressures for extended periods of time extremely important.

Marvin Odum, upstream Americas director, Shell Energy Resources Company, explained: "Shell's team used its expertise to open this new frontier and confront complex reservoir characteristics, extreme marine conditions, and record water depth pressures.

"Perdido's floating production facility can be expanded to serve the future potential in the area, and we can apply the technology and expertise utilised at Perdido to other similarly challenging environments in the future."

Preparing for Natural Disasters

A key concern for those working within the upstream oil industry is the safety of workers in the event of a natural disaster.

Cyclones and typhoons cause major problems within a number of waterways in Asia, and the intensity of such storms is expected to increase as levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increase.

Using the Gulf of Mexico as a reference, Shell compiled an offshore preparation plan for use by the upstream oil industry in the event of a hurricane in the region, in an effort to ensure staff safety, protect the environment and minimise the disruption to services.

Five phases were identified in the company's hurricane procedures, which are overseen by theHurricane Incident Command Team. The ongoing system of preparation and planning means the team conducts drills to identify and correct inefficiencies, and test the generation, batteries and equipment used in the event of a natural disaster.

As part of the initial offshore design process, all Mobile Offshore Drilling Units are equipped with global positioning systems to ensure that if they become unmoored they can be found relatively quickly and be assessed for damage.