The Gulf of Mexico was the birthplace of the Offshore Oil and Gas business over 50 years ago. Offshore drilling and production started out in very shallow water and it was natural for engineers involved in those early developments to think in terms of bottom founded civil structures when it can time to design and build permanent production facilities. As time passed exploration moved into deeper and deeper water until we reached 1000ft+ in the 1980’s when the practical limit for bottom founded structures was finally exceeded. Since that time TLPs, Spars and Production Semi submersibles have been built and installed as permanent Floating production units for the deepwater GOM.
Because of this evolution, it is still common to follow the “civil/structural engineering” approaches used in earlier fixed structure development when dealing with deepwater floating systems. One of the consequences of this approach is that naval architects and marine engineers are often relegated to the role of “stability engineer”, “mooring system engineer” or “ballast system engineer”, rather than using the “maritime engineering” approach where the naval architect and marine engineer plays the role of overall design manager, combining structural design, platform motions and stability, constructability, mooring systems, habitability, etc into an fully integrated design.
In many other offshore oil development provinces, there was no gradual development from ultra shallow to deeper water (Norway, Brazil, UK etc) and in addition there were strong maritime traditions in many of these areas. These factors have led to a situation where floating production systems developed under the guidance of naval architects and marine engineers are widely used throughout the world whereas they have only recently been adopted in the US offshore sector.
This paper will examine this aspect of the ongoing development of deepwater prospects in the US GOM. In particular the paper will examine some of the advantages to be gained by using trained naval architects and marine engineers to lead to design development of such platforms and will explore what SNAME, academia and individual naval architect and marine engineers can do to ensure that future deepwater developments are safe, efficient and environmentally secure.