Hard times often act as a catalyst for change. Low rates of return and marginal new field economics have stimulated rather than hampered offshore technological innovation. Some would say that the state of our industry has stifled deepwater development programs and all but eliminated the incentive for continued development. Diverless and deepwater technology has thrived in this environment as the search for economically viable fields moves into the vast, unexploited deepwater areas. Drilling continues In ultra deepwater in the ocean margin drilling program (plans for 10 060 m (33 000 ft) to learn more of plate tectonics and continental drift. We're drilling for oil and gas in 2286 m (7500 ft) of water using state-of-the-art dynamically positioned drilling technology. We forge ahead-with caution, yes,-but move ahead nevertheless. Shell's aggressive drilling program in the Gulf of Mexico, Placid's Green Canyon large-scale production facilities, Conoco's Jolliet Project in the Gulf of Mexico and Petrobras' string of record water depth completions offshore Brazil have all evolved during these very tenuous times.

Long-term opportunities appear promising, with major operators having leased acreage in up to 3048 m (10 000 ft) of water in the Gulf of Mexico during the last two years. Enormous deepwater projects such as Troll are underway in Norway, which will extend well into the 21st century and will provide major impetus for continuing innovation. The crystal ball is not clear, but it is accepted that flat oil prices will be with us for some time. The key to the near term is fine tuning, examining our present accomplishments and searching for simplification. Excessive complexity leads to inoperable systems at any depth. Safety and reliability must continue to be a crucial element in the formula.

Industry can solve the problems-we have done so-we have adapted systems to meet the water depth challenges put to us by the geologists over the years. However, economics are and will continue to be the controlling factor-they are the driving force.

This chapter will touch on key milestones in the development of deepwater technology and suggest how these relate to mid-depth applications. Achievement of these milestones has periodically redefined ‘deepwater’ for the industry and now provides us with a historical reference for viewing our present efforts. Those past ‘deepwater’ developments are today's mid-depth production systems. The future will be highly influenced by the approach we, the industry as a whole, take in developing new technologies Just as the ‘deepwater’ developments of the past have become the mid-depth production systems of today, the developments that will get us to 3048 m (10 000 ft) will substantially influence our approach to cost-effective development of reserves in conventional water depths.


Mobile drilling units such as submersibles and shallow-water jackups were first used for major exploration programs offshore in the Gulf of Mexico (1950). Deep water was probably 18 m (60 ft)-161 km (100 miles) offshore. A few years later geologists identified attractive prospects only 19 km (12 miles) offshore along the US West Coast.

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