The tender assist drilling rig market may be a small one, but it’s still competitive. The level of safety and engineering expertise required to play in this market naturally kicks many people out of the game.
“Almost every platform – whether it’s fixed or floating – is different,” says Kerry Kunz, president and CEO of Atlantica Tender Drilling. “You can’t buy the equipment you need for it from one supplier. It has to be tailored to specifications. Which means we have to be flexible and go around collecting information to fit multiple platforms/applications. We are on the client’s real estate, so it necessitates more interaction with the operator and getting more involved with the operator. It’s a market that clearly demands more engineering capability.”
Atlantica’s target market consists of oil companies that own weight-bearing wellhead platforms serving multiple wells that can only be accessed by either a platform rig or a tender assist, which is the type Atlantica designs and operates. The company designs and develops the barge or semi (depending on the client’s needs), as well as the modular equipment that performs the drilling activity and the support vessel, which is moored alongside the platform and houses the personnel, third-party services, consumables, power generation and the fluids necessary for operations.
Traditionally, Kunz says, these types of properties operate in coastal waters, in depths ranging from 20 meters to 100 meters in Southeast Asia and West Africa, rarely straying farther than 10 degrees north or south of the equator. Atlantica has one tender operating in this type of condition today while the other has mobilized to Brazil and is well outside of the traditional geographical area and in more challenging sea conditions.
Its Alpha was deployed to West Africa in 2010 and has been working there ever since with full utilization. Meanwhile, its recently built Gamma structure was awarded a five-well contract (approximately 400 days) to work for Foxtrot International on the Marlin Field Development project off the Cote D’Ivoire, also in West Africa. Contract commencement is set for first quarter 2015 following its late 2014 delivery, which will make it Atlantica’s second shallow-water tender assist rig. In addition to working in coastal regions, Atlantica is also a player in the growing deepwater drilling market.
Atlantica’s specific niche in deepwater drilling involves tension leg platforms sitting in 1,000 meters of water or more. Unlike the fixed platforms used in shallow water, the deepwater oil producers Atlantica works for use floating platforms that require a more stable semi-submersible hull-shaped vessel to contend with the sea conditions associated with deeper water.
“We are balanced on both sides of the market,” Kunz explains. “We have seen substantial growth in the deepwater side and [there is] more growth to come, even more so than the shallow-water side. It also requires a higher level of sophistication so barriers to entry are higher technologically and financially.”
Despite those factors, Atlantica has managed to win both of the two most-recent high-profile deepwater projects within its target market. The semi-tender Beta is under contract with oil producer Petrobras, working on Petrobras’ P-61 tension leg wellhead platform in Brazil’s Campos Basin operating in 1,200 meters of water. The Delta, which is being developed and under construction, will be Atlantica’s fourth vessel and is being built for Total to operate in 1,000 meters in the waters of West Africa (Congo).
“Overall, it’s broadly published that the last frontier is deeper water,” Kunz says. “It’s more expensive to find the oil, produce the oil, etc., etc., but it offers a lot of potential. Also, by using semi-tenders, you can have surface wellheads as opposed to wellheads that sit 5,000 feet under the ocean on the ocean floor. These are wellheads that you can walk up to and touch, test, repair, monitor and maintain. From an operator standpoint, the wellheads are more accessible, so if there’s a problem with the wellheads, you can see it and fix it before it turns into a catastrophe.”
Kunz credits Atlantica’s ability to perform in such a complex market to its employees, not just in engineering, but in all departments, including health and safety, financing and accounting. Between the company’s ABS-certified tender-assist rigs, its zero-incidents safety philosophy and ISO-18001 certification, Atlantica demonstrates not only the engineering expertise but also the management expertise to service this demanding market.