There are giants growing in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They are giant oil drilling platforms set up in deep water areas of the Gulf that were, until recently, inaccessible for exploration and production. The Anadarko petroleum corporation expects to double its production once its record-breaking large platform is in place early next year.
At a point in the Gulf waters around 257 kilometers south of the city of New Orleans next week, construction crews will begin driving the pilings for the Marco Polo platform. The platform will be connected to the sea bed by tendons, in the form of 71 centimeter-diameter pipes. The distance from the platform to the sea bed will be more than 1,300 meters, a new record for a tendon-based platform.
The Marco Polo platform will be operated by Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum, which already has large operations in more shallow areas of the Gulf. This will be the company's first deep-water venture and it is expected to nearly double its current production of about 60,000 barrels a day.
Mark Pease, Vice President of Anadarko's U.S. Onshore/Offshore Operations says this is part of an effort by the industry in general to use new technology to reach oil deposits beyond the more shallow water regions where most rigs operate today.
"We think there is a tremendous amount of potential out there," he said. "The Gulf of Mexico has been a very prolific oil and gas producing basin and this is just extending the Gulf of Mexico. The only reason we were not out there working before was because of the water depths. We have seen the potential for oil and gas prospects for a long time."
The Marco Polo platform will not be owned by Anadarko. It is being built by GulfTerra Energy Partners and Cal Dive International, which are also Houston companies. Under the contract agreement, Anadarko will pay them a monthly fee for use of the platform plus a fee based on the amount of production.
The platform has the capacity to handle 120,000 barrels of oil a day, but will only produce about 50,000 barrels a day from the Marco Polo site. Mark Pease says the lease arrangement and the capacity of the platform both favor expansion of Anadarko's operations in the same area of water in the future.
"It let us take our capital that otherwise would have been tied up building a facility and we can take that and explore elsewhere," he said. "The other thing it did was, with that additional capacity there, any other discoveries we make in the area we can bring in to that very easily, which is more efficient, you can bring them into production more quickly."
The total cost of the Marco Polo project is $224 million. Mr. Pease says that cost is justified by the size of the deposit discovered at the site.
He says the same technology being used in the Gulf by Anadarko and other companies is also being used elsewhere in the world and could help greatly expand the amount of petroleum and natural gas on the energy market.
"It depends on what you find and what the actual economics will support, but the deep-water technology, if you will, not just drilling, but the production technology as well, has allowed more access and increased production in a lot of parts of the world, not just in the Gulf of Mexico," he said.
The Marco Polo platform is itself an example of international business cooperation. The massive hull for the platform, which is the size of a 20-story building, was built by the Samsung corporation in South Korea and hauled in a heavy transport ship to a port near Corpus Christi, Texas.