Brazilian Oil in Depth

June 11th, 2013 - Drilling for ultra-deep oil presents significant logistical challenges

Brazil's discovery of massive underwater oil reserves over three years ago is expected to transform the country into the world's largest offshore oil-producing nation, ahead of Angla and the U.S..

Petrobas, the Brazilian state oil company, recently estimated recoverable reserves from the Santos Basin at over eight billion barrels and said that it expects to invest $73 billion through 2015 to extract the pre-salt oil deposits.

But developing the oil has posed a significant engineering and logistical challenge for the country. The reserves lie some 2,000 meters below the ocean's surface and are buried beneath another 5,000 meters of sand, rock and a massive salt layer that only the most advanced drilling rigs can penetrate.

Petrobas also had to make plans for the transportation of the oil and gas to the nearest refinery when the pre-salt reserves are some 230 kilometers from the coast of Rio de Janeiro.

The ultra-deep water and the lack of oil transportation infrastructure in Brazil has led to the increasing use of floating production, storage and offloading oil platforms, notes Philippe Lejeune, oil & gas/industrial projects manager for SDV in Europe. These vessels, known as FPSOs are especially effective in deep-water sites where seabed pipes are not cost-effective.

The scale of the project to construct just one of these platforms, the FPSO known as P-57 in the Jubarte oil field, and the logistics surrounding its construction and maintenance, provide a glimpse of the challenges Brazil faces in exploiting its massive oil reserves. It took almost three years to construct and install the P-57, located 80km off Brazil's Espirito Santo coast and one of the largest floating oil platforms in the world. Built in shipyards in Singapore and Brazil, the P-57 is capable of producing up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day from 22 wells. It started operations at the end of last year.

Transporting the materials to the construction sites was a sizeable project involving the shipping of 5,000 tons of materials covering 12,000 cubic meters over 1,500 shipments, says Lejeune. The materials were transported from Europe, China, the U.S., Canada and Australia to Singapore and Brazil by both ship and plane.

SDV consolidated materials to make the transportation cost effective and tracked the goods to provide maximum visibility. It also handled customs formalities which Lejeune warns can prove complex in Brazil. “If the documentation is not perfect the goods can be blocked for some time,” he says.

With more FPSOs planned over the coming years to exploit its pre-salt deposits, the transport and logistics will need to run smoothly for Petrobas to meet its ambitious goal of producing over one million barrels of oil per day in the region by 2017. Then Brazil's transformation into an oil superpower will be complete.

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