The petroleum industry over the past 100 years has moved from past 100 years has moved from drilling offshore from fixed platforms extended from the platforms extended from the shoreline to floating drilling far offshore in water depths greater than 4,900 ft. The environment offshore has been more challenging and rewarding than man's trips to the moon. Offshore drilling has been challenged by water depth, currents, tides, waves, wind, icebergs, pack ice, ice floes, and distances. Not all places in the world have these environments in a hostile condition. Only those areas of hostile environmental conditions and their relationships with floating drilling will be discussed.Technology and equipment needed to drill a hole have been perfected for inland operations for perfected for inland operations for the past 70 years. The same technology and equipment for the past 25 years have been extended past 25 years have been extended offshore - first on small platforms, then on barges, jackups, platforms, then on barges, jackups, mobile platforms, floating ships, and semisubmersibles.Fig. 1 illustrates examples of hostile environments the petroleum industry has confronted. These include pack ice in the arctic; moving ice in Alaska's Cook Inlet; icebergs in Greenland; hurricane storm waves of 70 ft in Ireland; deep water to 4,900 ft offshore Canada; currents of 4 knots offshore Thailand; moving ocean floor sediments in South America; tides of 30 ft offshore Canada; and winds of 100 knots in the North Sea. Take as a specific example, the hostile environment of water depth.

Deepwater Environment

The trend in offshore exploration clearly shows the industry is moving to deeper water environments to drill and explore for oil and gas (Fig. 2). Records show it took the industry 20 years to move floating drilling from 100-ft water depths to 1,300 ft. Yet in the past 8 years we have extended the water depth an additional 3,100 ft, from 1,300 to 4,400 ft. We now have drilled approximately 200 exploration wells in water depths of 600 to 4,400 ft. Operations are currently under way to drill a well in 4,900 ft of water. The future indicates we will be drilling in 8,000-ft water depths in the early 1980's.As water depths increased, floating drilling became necessary. This required three major technological extensions of know-how and innovation:

  1. motion; the rig no longer has bottom support;

  2. mooring; the floating unit must be held against the environment; and

  3. subsea; the blowout preventer (BOP) is now below water.

During 1953-70, the oil industry was developing the technology and equipment to work from floating vessels while drilling exploration wells. All of the above major technological extensions required many hours of engineering, new types of equipment, and years of operating experience to achieve confidence that exploration from floating drilling was safe and practical. These advances are now practical. These advances are now routine:

  1. motion we continue drilling operations in 40-ft waves and 60-knot winds;

  2. mooring we drill successfully in deepwater depths and stay on location in 92-ft waves and 100-knot winds; and

  3. subsea safe, remote operations, subsea BOP control, etc., have been routine on the approximately 4,000 wells drilled offshore with subsea equipment.

Offshore floating exploration drilling experience has moved from 200-ft water in 1958 to 4,900 ft in 1979. Our capability to drill in water depths has increased at a steady rate, and presently industry has the equipment and technology to drill in 8,000 ft of water.

Extension of Technology for Deepwater Drilling

The extensions of technology necessary to move floating drilling from 600- to 8,000-ft water depths are:

  1. mooring development of dynamic stationing to replace mooring systems;

  2. reentry development of acoustic/TV reentry to replace guideline systems;

  3. BOP controls development of electrohydraulic controls to replace hydraulic operations that were too slow; and

  4. riser development of couplings that can withstand high tensions and fatigue equivalent to pipe material and development of pipe material and development of reliable buoyancy materials to reduce riser tension requirements.

Experience in Deep Water Dynamic Stationing

Dynamic stationing utilizes thrust provided by propulsion units provided by propulsion units (thrusters) to hold a vessel on location and drill in water depths from 600 to 8,000 ft.


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