More Deepwater Rigs in the Gulf Mean Busy Days Ahead for Rolls-Royce

rolls royce thrusters
L-R: Carlos Bertrand, Peter Redpath, Jonathan Webster, Terry Gilbert, Dan Mirelez

I met up with the folks at Rolls-Royce the other week at their service center in Galveston, Texas for a quick update on their operations.

With more and more rigs c0ming into the Gulf of Mexico, Rolls-Royce’s operations in Galveston are singularly focused on ensuring those rigs have the reliable power they need to keep them on station at all times.

With more and more rigs heading to the Gulf, business is looking up.

Rolls-Royce VP Offshore, Carlos Bertrand notes “current trends look very healthy” with international oil companies increasing their capital expenditures and Mexican energy reforms setting the stage for the opening of a new deepwater fields.  Building on the current fleet of 26 drillships and 30 semi-submersibles in the Gulf of Mexico (G0M), 10 drillships and 10 more semis are scheduled to enter the GoM this year.

Bertrand also notes that Mexico’s planned CAPEX for 2014 has increased from $20 billion to $25 billion.

“Everyone is paying attention to the reform,” adds Bertrand. “Everyone is feeling that Pemex will concentrate on shallow water assets and partner with other NOCs on deepwater projects.”

For Pemex, it seems heading out in to the deepwater as an operator will take a bit of time in order to gain the requisite expertise.

Outside of Rolls-Royce’s building in Galveston is their “thruster farm” where they keep all the spare thrusters for their clients just in case one of them goes down and they need to do a quick change out.

rolls royce thruster farm
click for larger, image (c) R.Almeida/gCaptain

There is a huge emphasis on the “quick” part too as a mechanical breakdown on one of the high spec rigs could easily cost a million dollars a day in lost revenue to their clients.

Terry Gilbert, Transocean’s Head of Thrusters notes that in some cases they’ve actually had to charter Antonov An-225 cargo planes in order to get their thrusters from one place to another.

antonov an-225
An-225 Mriya, image: Dmitry A. Mottl/wikipedia

Even at a cost of around $1.2 million per flight, it was still a lot cheaper than any other option.

Gilbert described a situation one time when they flew a 110 ton thruster to Sri Lanka, but it ended up being too big to haul through the airport’s main gate once they got there.  After their request to use cutting torches to widen the gate was denied, they had to hire a crane to lift the thruster over the fence to another truck.

To avoid costly situations like this in the future, companies like Transocean typically buy a set of identical thrusters for the areas in which their rigs operate so that they can switch thrusters if needed.  This is a cost sometimes overlooked by drilling contractors just entering the market and according to Rolls-Royce, is typically spread out over a 3 to 4 year period where each year they buy one extra thruster until they have an entire set.

Who pays for these extra thrusters?  “99 percent of the time, we do,” notes Gilbert.

For rigs like the Discoverer Americas which left the Gulf of Mexico last year to drill offshore Tanzania for Statoil, their redundancy lies not with a few extra thrusters sitting on shore, but in the reality that the weather off Tanzania is generally quite mild and keeping on station with 5 of their 6 thrusters is not a problem if required.  Gilbert notes that they’ll be switching out two of that rig’s thrusters soon.

Inside the Rolls Royce’s Service Workshop, pictured below, is where Rolls-Royce thrusters (and other equipement) end up for routine maintenance.

rolls royce galveston
click for larger, (c) R.Almeida/gCaptain

The 33,000 square foot facility has an 85 ton crane capable of lifting their UUC 455 thruster as well has an array of milling machines, lathes, and grinders.