By Staff Writer | August 1, 2004
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Deep-Water Promises

Twice the amount of known oil and natural gas reserves lie undiscovered beneath deep waters, according to a consultancy report that supports wide-ranging deep-water exploration efforts by oil and gas companies around the world.

The latest study by the Scottish energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie and Fugro Robertson (headquartered in Leidschendam, Netherlands) projects that 180 billion barrels of oil and natural gas deposits have yet to be located and tapped in waters deeper than about 1,300 ft., or 400 m. (Others put the boundary of deep water at a depth of 1,000 ft. or about 305 m.)


In releasing its report, Wood Mackenzie said roughly two-thirds of oil and gas discoveries come from deep-water sites now, a proportion sustained by rarer successes from wells on shore and in shallow waters.

A number of oil and gas companies have launched deep-water efforts recently, and the U.S. government is offering incentives for operators in the Gulf of Mexico to drill deeper at existing sites as well as to open new ones in deep-water locations, targeting depths of 656-15,000 ft.

Top deep-water drillers include Brazil's Petrobras and the United Kingdom's BP plc. Wood Mackenzie said their deep-water assets total about $27 billion and $23 billion, respectively. It said Royal Dutch/Shell holds deep-water assets worth $21 billion. Several small and mid-size companies hold exploration rights to attractive deep-water sites, the firm said. These include Devon Energy, ConocoPhillips, Kerr-McGee and Murphy Oil Corp.

Deep-water operations have been focused in the offshore regions of four countries--Angola, Brazil, Nigeria and the Unites States. But Mexico's Pemex plans to launch deep-water operations shortly, and Australia and Egypt have substantial gas potential in deep-water fields.

Exploitation of deep-water sites poses both technical and political challenges which can delay projects. Nonetheless, oil and gas industry leaders seem optimistic about the prospects for deep-water work.

This is good news for helicopter makers like Sikorsky, Eurocopter and even Bell/Agusta Aerospace, which have been developing aircraft aimed in part at serving long-range and heavier-lift offshore operations. New and larger aircraft like Sikorsky's S-92 and Eurocopter's EC225 derivative of the Super Puma, as well as Bell/Agusta's AB139 may have appeal for support operators whose clients are pushing further and deeper into offshore waters.

North Sea Realignment

Bond Offshore Helicopters re-entered the North Sea market in June, opening a base in Aberdeen, Scotland for its fleet of seven new Eurocopter Super Puma AS332L2s. The helicopters will support offshore crew-change and search-and-rescue operations. The U.K. CAA's group director for safety regulation, Michael Bell, visited the base for a familiarization tour shortly after its opening.

As Bond spooled up operations, other operators pared theirs.

Bristow Helicopters began closing its technical services division at the Redhill Aerodrome near Cambridge, England, based on growing competition and under-performance.

The move will leave Bristow with 80-90 staff at Redhill. It is part of a realignment of Bristow's North Sea operations based on a major review of the company's operations there. It also has or will cut about 50 jobs at its Aberdeen and Norwich bases. The cuts came as Bristow's U.K. North Sea flying hours fell 20 percent and Bond Offshore prepared to re-enter that market (R&W January 2004, page 41).

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