Transocean’s Discoverer Americas Gets it Done for Statoil in the Gulf of Mexico

DAS discoverer americas logoIt’s about a two and a half hour helicopter flight from Louisiana to get to this lonely patch of ocean far out in the Gulf of Mexico, but the Geoscientists at Statoil said that’s where the oil would be.  They called the spot Logan and was located at block 969 in Walker Ridge.

Looking at a chart of the Gulf of Mexico, that’s way the heck out there.

For the past 6 months, the Discoverer Americas, a 6th-generation drillship owned by Transocean, has been sitting out there, precisely on station in around 7800 feet of seawater… slowly turning a drill string dangling far beneath the ship.

This rig is one of the newest in Transocean’s fleet, and her dual activity derrick and highly experienced personnel made her certainly one of the most capable.  Built at DSME in Okpo, Korea, her Commissioning Manager, a former US Marine officer and Citadel grad, did an impeccable job in making sure she was ready to go to work as soon as the time came to leave the shipyard back in 2009.

Over the past two years, she covered a lot of ground crossing the Indian Ocean, South Atlantic, and then the Gulf of Mexico before starting on her first well in Mississippi Canyon at a well site called Krakatoa.

It was a heck of a well to start with, and at times her name seemed to be a good fit.  After many months on the ocean, while enduring a frigid winter on the Gulf, and countless drilling challenges, the Deepwater Horizon exploded, bringing Gulf of Mexico drilling operations to a screeching halt.

Discoverer Americas transocean
Discoverer Americas off Durban, South Africa, Image (c) Robert Almeida

A few months later, Statoil decided it was time to cram as much gear on board as possible and point the Americas’ bow east, and head back across the Atlantic.  Next stop Egypt.

Drilling operations began in a pretty straightforward manner, not many issues.  It was deep water, but a relatively shallow well.  Or so they thought.

Thousands upon thousands of feet down they drilled, but still nothing.  No signs of hydrocarbons, but soon the question of what to do next was once again answered for them.

Egypt erupted in a revolution, ending all possible support from shore.  Cairo-based personnel from Statoil and Transocean left town as fast as they could, and soon thereafter, the Discoverer Americas pulled their riser and followed suit, back across the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

This was her forth major ocean crossing in 3 years, and she had yet to hit paydirt.  Logan had been on the plans ever since she arrived in the Gulf of Mexico a year earlier, and now was the time to earn their paycheck, and hopefully give Statoil the return on investment they were looking for.

This past April, the Logan well was “spud-in” with 36-in casing, officially starting the top section of what would end up being an enormous steel and concrete structure extending miles down below the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico.  Over the next few months as they drilled through dozens of different sediment layers such as shale, sand, and thousands of feet of salt while carefully shoring up the well from the internal pressures of the earth with strings of steel pipe.

The geologists on board carefully analyzed the drill cuttings entrapped in mud that was returning back to the surface.  They were looking for the dead remnants of ancient organisms deposited long ago.  Finding the right type of organism would be a clue that hydrocarbon-rich sands were close by.

After 6 months of drilling, with their drill string extended nearly 5 miles into the earth, they found what they were looking for.  Their polycrystalline, diamond-studded drill bit had finally cut through a formation that was saturated with oil.  It was the Americas’ and Statoil’s first find in nearly two years of drilling.  Very little public information about how much oil was found and its properties is available however outside of the inner circles at Statoil.

Even Transocean has no idea how much, or exactly what was found, but at the end of the day, none of that matters.

As an offshore drilling contractor, they safely executed an incredibly complex drilling program in waters over a mile and a half deep, allowing their client to gain incredibly detailed and valuable information about the geology present in the Gulf of Mexico.

Next up for the Discoverer Americas is a few month drilling contract for Anadarko at the Heidelberg Prospect in Green Canyon.  Sitting below 5,000 feet of seawater, this well will reach over 30,000 feet below the wave tops to an area that has already proven to hold a significant amount of high quality oil-bearing sands.

Congrats to Transocean and the crew of the Discoverer Americas for a job well done.