Rio de Janeiro – Brazilian state-controlled energy giant Petrobras, a global technology leader in the area of deepwater drilling, plans to develop reserves located far offshore in the Atlantic Ocean by deploying dozens of oil rigs that are veritable floating cities.
Following the discovery of massive, ultra-deep deposits in recent years that could lead to a drastic increase in proven reserves and transform Brazil into a major oil exporter, the company plans to put dozens of new giant oil platforms into service in the coming years.
"Each rig is an autonomous floating city with all the services, including electricity and water, and I serve in the role of mayor of one of them," Francisco Castro, manager of the P-18 platform, said during a visit by Efe to this soccer-stadium-sized production facility far out at sea.
Petrobras has a fleet of 86 fixed and 46 floating rigs that are a workplace for nearly 45,000 people, who enjoy 21 days of rest for every 14 days on board.
A total of "180 people live on my 'city.' They're replaced every 14 days and work on one of two 12-hour shifts," the manager of the P-18 said.
That platform, the world's first semi-submersible with a capacity to produce 100,000 barrels of oil and 2 million cubic meters (70.5 million cubic feet) of gas per day, began operating in 1994 and today extracts 34,000 bpd from the Campos Basin.
The floating city, anchored 117 kilometers (70 miles) off the coast of the southeastern state of Rio de Janeiro, weighs 18,347 tons, is 101 meters (110 yards) long by 88 meters (95 yards) wide and operates in a region where the water depth is 910 meters (2,980 feet).
Besides its productive infrastructure, which includes links to 14 production wells, two oil pipelines, a gas pipeline and eight anchors, the giant metal platform's four levels feature 43 cabins with 130 beds and a restaurant with a 50-person seating capacity.
The 17-year-old P-18 also is equipped with a heliport, auditorium, three TV rooms, two game rooms, an Internet cafe, a video-conferencing room, a gym and a library, as well as the different control stations.
"Despite being 100 kilometers (60 miles) offshore, we have everything we need, even a bakery and a laundry mat," Castro said.
The rig can operate autonomously because it has two electrical generators fed by the gas it extracts; a potable water-producing plant capable of supplying a 736-cubic-meter (194,440 gallon) tank and fiber-optic networks that provide telephone, Internet and TV links to the mainland.
"We don't produce the food we consume by ourselves, as that arrives by boat from the mainland once a month," the "mayor" of the floating city said, adding that Petrobras regulations prohibit fishing in drilling areas.
Discoveries of offshore ultra-deep deposits in recent years in the so-called "pre-salt" region have generated a great deal of optimism in Brazil and could drastically increase the country's current proven reserves of oil and natural gas, which totaled approximately 16 billion barrels of oil equivalent at the end of 2010.
Located in a roughly 160,000-sq.-kilometer (62,000-sq.-mile) offshore area, the pre-salt fields are estimated to contain roughly 80 billion boe and could potentially transform the South American nation into a major crude exporter.
But accessing them will be very costly and pose an enormous technical challenge because they are located at depths of up to 7,000 meters (22,950 feet) under a thick layer of salt. Drastic changes in temperature as the oil is brought to the surface also add to the technical complexity of developing those fields.
Under recent legislation, Petrobras is the operator of all projects and also can be awarded exploration contracts without a competitive bidding process.
Petrobras plans to invest $224 billion over the next five years to develop the pre-salt area and boost daily oil production from a current level of 2.4 million bpd to 4 million bpd in 2020.