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Shell starts production at Perdido (rich media) – people, technology and deep-sea stories, images and videos

Perdido smashes the water depth record for an offshore oil drilling and production platform by over 50%. On March 31, 2010 first oil flowed to the platform that is moored in 2,450 metres (8,000 feet) of water, preparing the way for full production.

The drive is on to produce oil and gas from harsh frontier environments, including ever deeper waters of the open sea. Perdido is the world’s deepest offshore oil field development and the remotest offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Perdido opens up a whole new frontier in deep-water oil production,” says Tyler Priest, oil historian and professor at the University of Houston, Texas, USA. “It is the most technologically advanced facility in the world.”

Powerful hurricanes sweep the ocean surface while extreme pressures and near freezing temperatures pose challenges on the rugged seabed. Producing oil and gas in these conditions has required one of the most challenging engineering feats ever achieved.

The Perdido oil and gas platform is located 320 kilometres (200 miles) off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico, further from land — or another installation — than any other offshore production platform. It sits on top of a giant floating steel cylinder — or spar — designed to stay upright in storms.

Nine mooring lines hold the structure in place. They are each more than three kilometres (1.9 miles) long. Beneath the spar a vast network of 35 wells and pipelines on the seabed connects three separate fields in the near-freezing water under immense pressure. Oil and gas are separated on the seabed before powerful pumps push them up from the low-pressure reservoirs to the surface.

Perdido is a technological tour de force that is opening up a new frontier for global oil and gas production,” says Russ Ford,responsible for Shell technologies in the Americas during the project’s development. “Perdido and the US outer continental shelf represent considerable potential to boost US and global energy security.”

The Perdido platform peak production will be 100,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day, enough to meet the energy needs of about 2.2 million US households. The oil and gas fields beneath the platform lie in a geological formation holding resources estimated at 3-15 billion barrels of oil equivalent*. Shell has a 35% share of the facility and operates the project on behalf of its partners Chevron (37.5%) and BP (27.5%).

One platform, many wells

Many of today’s oil and gas resources lie dispersed in small fields instead of in one large one. The Perdido project plans to develop three fields — Great White, Silvertip and Tobago — spread over 70 square kilometres (27 square miles). It would not be economically viable to build separate platforms to produce oil and gas from each field. Instead, the Perdido platform is equipped with its own drilling rig and can move directly above the wells in the Great White field when winches adjust the tension of the mooring lines. The lines are made from polyester, which is as strong as wire cable but much lighter, so it reduces the weight on the spar. This is the first time a spar with direct vertical access to a network of 22 wells was built in water more than two kilometres (1.2 miles) deep.

The remaining 13 wells are in the more distant Silvertip and Tobago fields. They tie into the same network on the seabed beneath the spar through a system of valves and fittings that control the flow of oil and gas.

Drilling in waters two kilometres (1.2 miles) deep was unheard of 14 years ago, when the leases to produce oil and gas in this area of the Gulf of Mexico were first obtained. But in December 2008, the project set the world record for the deepest completed offshore production well at 2,852 metres (9,356 feet) below sea level. Another well in the Tobago field is being drilled at a depth of 2,925 metres (9,596 feet).

Boosting the flow of oil

The Perdido platform

Perdido will yield the first commercial oil production from the oldest geological formation in the Gulf of Mexico. The rock in the 65 million-year old Paleogene formation is less porous than in other formations in the Gulf, so oil and gas flow less easily. To combat the low pressure in these reservoirs, Shell installed five powerful electric pumps on the seabed to bring the oil to the surface. The gas is separated from the oil and flows up to the spar through a flexible pipe called a riser. From the spar, the oil and gas are pumped through separate pipelines for treatment on the shore.

Thousands of metres below sea level where the pressure is too high for human divers, unmanned submarine robots — controlled by operators at sea level — installed the equipment on the seabed. At 2,800 metres (9,186 feet) below sea level the pressure of 280 bar (4,061 pounds per square inch) is about twice the pressure created by hydraulic crushers to flatten cars. The robots are equipped with lights and cameras so that operators can see what they are doing. That includes turning valves, assembling equipment or dredging. Images provided by the subs give a rare glimpse of unusual creatures that live at great depths. One submersible encountered a newly discovered family of big-fin squid that was first named in 1998 and has rarely been captured on film.

Storm protection

Powerful storms pose serious technical challenges too. In 2008, three quarters of the oil production in the Gulf of Mexico had to be suspended because of hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The Perdido spar’s nine mooring lines are designed to withstand the type of storm likely to occur once in 1,000 years, such as the most destructive hurricane in US history, Katrina.

The spar itself — nearly twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty and as heavy as about 10,000 large family cars — is designed to stay upright even if it disconnects from its moorings. It moves up and down only a few metres with the ocean’s swell during storms. Like an iceberg, only about ten percent of it is visible above the waterline. The heavy bulk below the waterline gives it the stability to keep it straight; it is designed to tilt no more than 14 degrees in the heaviest storms.

It took a multinational effort to complete the project. Contractors from five continents worked together to overcome the huge technical challenges of the project. The spar was designed in the USA and built by workers from Finland, Latvia and Estonia; the mooring equipment came from Britain and Poland; a Dutch company towed it 13,200 kilometres (8,202 miles) from the Pori shipyard in Finland to Ingleside, Texas, and other equipment came from Mexico.

* Minerals Management Service, Petroleum Economist, February 2007


More information

For more information, interview requests or photography, please contact:

International media:
Wendel Broere or David Williams at Shell Media Relations
T: +31 70 377 3600

US media:
T: +1 713-241-4544

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