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Analysis: Giant Rig Offers New Technology

Artist's impression of the Thunder Horse platform.
by Phil Magers
Dallas TX (UPI) Feb 28, 2005
Bush administration officials say the world's largest and most advanced offshore oil platform displays the technology that will make it possible to tap into oil and gas reserves that were previously inaccessible.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton made the forecast Saturday on the Texas gulf coast during the dedication of the Thunder Horse platform, a massive semi-submersible production platform being readied for the deepest reaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

"The Thunder Horse platform exemplifies the revolution in energy production technology that makes it possible to tap into oil and gas reserves that previously were inaccessible," she said. "From the Gulf of Mexico to arctic Alaska, we can increase domestic energy production in difficult-to-reach places in a safe and environmentally sensitive way."

Advances in offshore technology in the last decade have ma de it possible for oil companies to drill at depths unheard of in the past and do it in a safe and more environmentally sound way, which are exhibited on the Thunder Horse platform.

Energy used on the rig will be produced from natural gas recovered from the Thunder Horse Field. The platform will capture waste heat through heat-recovery units and use it in the production process.

To prevent overboard water discharges, the water produced by the platform will be mixed with sea water and re-injected for reservoir pressure maintenance, officials said.

About $5 billion has been invested in the Thunder Horse platform. BP owns 75 percent of the unit and Exxon-Mobil the remaining 25 percent. The final assembly will be the size of a modern professional football stadium, with more than 100 technological innovations, according to BP.

"It is amazing that so large a structure as Thunder Horse will have such a tiny env ironmental footprint, leaving almost no trace of itself in either the sea or the sky," Norton said.

Rick Mercier, director of the Offshore Technology Research Center at Texas A&M University, said Thunder Horse is unquestionably the largest semi-submersible of its type, but it is not alone in the revolution in offshore technology.

"There are some new twists on this platform, but the biggest thing is its sheer size, which implies a lot of production," he said.

Na Kika, an offshore rig operated by Shell and BP, operates near where the Thunder Horse will be located in waters that are more than 6,000 feet deep and has many advance features.

A semi-submersible platform, in contrast to fixed platforms or jack-up rigs, floats like a marine vessel, moving back and forth with the seas. Mooring lines hold the platform in place as it extracts the oil and gas from the gulf floor.

Thunder Horse will operate in a field more than 6,000 feet deep that was discovered six years ago about 150 miles southeast of New Orleans. The discovery, the largest so far in the gulf, has a potential of 1 billion barrels of oil equivalent over its 25-year life.

The deepwater region of the gulf may contain more than 56 billion barrels of oil equivalent, according to Johnnie Burton, director of the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that regulates drilling, issues leases and collects royalties for the government.

"Huge deep water projects like BP's Thunder Horse and others are expected to increase our gulf production to more than 2 million barrels per day within the next two years," he said.

The Bush administration has encouraged more gulf exploration by offering incentives through royalty relief. Cuts in royalty payments are expected to boost oil production in the gulf by 43 percent and gas production by 13 percent in the nex t decade, according to Interior officials.

The Thunder Horse platform is expected to move out into the gulf by the end of March, a journey that could take up to 30 days because of the slow pace, said Joe Trahan, regional director of public affairs for the MMS.

Once the platform is in place, the agency will check it out in six months to ensure it meets regulatory guidelines regarding safety and the environment, he said.

The MMS is currently reviewing industry construction and operation standards for offshore platforms because of severe damage last September from Hurricane Ivan, the worst ever for the industry in the oil and gas-rich producing area.

Mercier said floating platforms fared pretty well during the storm, but some fixed rigs suffered damage. He said the worst damage was to underwater pipelines from mudslides.

Companies are still working to repair about nine platforms that remai n out of production. Work is also under way on pipelines with a June 1 deadline imposed by the MMS.

The devastation from Ivan could have been even worse if it had taken a course through the western gulf, where the oil and gas production is more widespread, Trahan said.

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London, UK (SPX) Feb 25, 2005
Contrary to popular belief, hydroelectric power can seriously damage the climate. Proposed changes to the way countries' climate budgets are calculated aim to take greenhouse gas emissions from hydropower reservoirs into account, but some experts worry that they will not go far enough, reports New Scientist.

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