A new concept for developing marginal deepwater fields has arrived in the GoM and is scheduled to begin operations early next year.

The Helix Producer I is designed to produce and export up to 45,000 b/d of oil. (Image courtesy of Helix Energy Solutions)

In early May, the Helix Producer I entered the Kiewit shipyard in Corpus Christi, Texas, for installation and commissioning of topside production facilities. The vessel will be the first ship-shaped production vessel to operate in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM).

The Helix Producer I is 528 ft (161 m) long, 95 ft (29 m) wide, and is designed to produce and export up to 45,000 b/d of oil. The vessel also will have the capacity to handle 72 MMcf/d of gas and 50,000 b/d of water (60,000 b/d total fluids). The design includes a disconnectable transfer system, which will allow Helix Producer I to quickly decouple from subsea infrastructure in the event of a weather-related emergency.

Though the company considered a number of production system options, in the end there were several reasons it decided to go with a ship-shaped vessel, despite the fact that no production vessel of this kind had ever worked in the GoM.

According to Kevin Robison, commercial manager of production facilities for Helix Energy Solutions Group, there were several incentives for the company to select a ship-shaped production system. One of the primary drivers, he said, was a combination of cost and safety.

“Under US Coast Guard rules, fixed platforms have to be evacuated for a certain number of days when storms come through the Gulf of Mexico,” Robison explained. We anticipate we can resume production after the storm sooner due to the fact that personnel will not be evacuated from the vessel, but will remain onboard during transit to safe harbor. “You have costs and time for evacuating people and getting them back to the platform after the storm has passed,” he said.

With a disconnectable system, there is no need for personnel to leave the vessel, so those additional logistics costs are not incurred. “The people stay onboard,” Robison said. “We can disconnect, drop the buoy, and sail to safe harbor until the danger has passed.

Hin Chiu, vice president of marine capital projects for Helix, agreed that the vessel’s mobility is a considerable asset. “The Helix Producer I design concept offers distinct advantages over moored production facilities. Because it is a DP vessel, the HPI can evade weather events such as hurricanes, whereas platforms or moored FPSOs must endure the storms.”

Another major reason the vessel was a good choice for the GoM is that it will help ensure infrastructure integrity. “With the vessel capable of disconnecting, the assets are out of harm’s way and are not in danger of being destroyed,” Robison said.

A third driver for selecting a ship-shaped vessel is the fact that it is redeployable and can easily move from one field to another, which is particularly important when the field size is small because of the cost savings this represents.

“We can move quickly to a new site and start producing another field,” Robison said. “Cost is always important, but it is the deciding factor where a large capital cost is not economical for a field. A small reservoir that otherwise wouldn’t be commercial becomes an asset if the costs come down. The Helix Producer I will be an enabler because this asset will be amortized over three or four fields.”

The Helix Producer I, which was classed by Lloyd’s Register, is scheduled to undergo offshore commissioning, testing of the disconnectable transfer system, and sea trials in the GoM when the installation of production topside modules is complete. The vessel is expected to begin production from the Phoenix field in 1Q 2010.