The Caspian Sea is the largest inland body of water in the world. It is, in fact, salty but is not connected to nor does it drain into an ocean. Its sea level is regulated by evaporation and is just under 30 m (98 ft) below sea level. Its 7,000-km (4,200-mile) coastline encompasses Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Azerbaijan. The sea has an average depth of 190 m (623 ft), and its deepest point is 1,025 m (3,362 ft). In winter almost one-third of the northern Caspian Sea freezes over. In summer the Iranian sector sees water surface temperatures of around 30°C (86°F).

The major commercial activities in the Caspian Sea are oil and gas, tourism, and fishing. Since 90% of the world’s sturgeon population lives in the Caspian Sea, protecting the natural environment is very important. Hence, all oil and gas activities must obey a zero-discharge policy during drilling operations.

Eurasia Drilling Co.’s (EDC) offshore division, known as BKE Shelf, has its origins in Lukoil Shelf Ltd., which itself was founded in 1999. EDC entered the offshore drilling market in 2006 with the purchase of Lukoil’s Astra jackup in the Caspian Sea. BKE Shelf has since grown to be the largest independent offshore operator in Russia and currently has three jackups operating – the Astra in Kazakhstan and the Saturn and Neptune jackups in Turkmenistan waters. A fourth jackup, Mercury, is under construction.

EDC also provides drilling services on Lukoil’s ice-resistant offshore platform LSP-1 on the Korchagina field in the Russian sector. The contract for that rig is a “life-of-drilling” contract. Since the start of drilling on this platform, more than 16 wells have been completed, and many of these are extended-reach wells with the longest being more than 7,600 m (24,928 ft).

The Astra is a Baker Marine Services BMC-150-H design capable of drilling to 4,878 m (16,000 ft) in water depths up to 38 m (125 ft). It has been drilling in Russian and Kazakh waters and has been the workhorse for many discoveries, including the eight fields discovered by Lukoil. To date, the jackup has drilled 41 new wells and one workover.

Nineteen exploration and appraisal wells were drilled for Lukoil. A further exploration well was drilled for the KNK Consortium (Rosneft/Lukoil).

Astra also drilled 11 directional development wells and performed a workover for Dragon Oil in the LAM field in the Turkmenistan sector. The jackup has also been used in the Kazakhstan sector, drilling 10 exploration and appraisal wells across the following fields: Tub-Karagan field for KMT and Rosneft; Kurmangazy field for KMG and Lukoil; Auezov, Khazar, and Tulpar fields for CMOC, KMG, Shell, and Oman Pearls Co.; Atash field for KMG and Lukoil; and N-Block for N-Operating Co. As of Aug. 1, 2013, another well was drilled on Pearls Block (Naryn-1) for CMOC.

The Saturn was purchased from Transocean in 2011. Since then, this rig has drilled 34 new wells and performed 14 workovers. Thirty of the wells and all of the workovers were for Petronas in Turkmen waters. The year 2013 marked the beginning of a three-year contract to drill wells for Petronas in Turkmen waters.

Saturn also drilled two exploration wells for Japan Azerbaijan Oil Co. offshore Azerbaijan and two exploration wells in the Kazakhstan sector – one for AGIP KCO in the Kalamkas Block and one well for CMOC in the Pearls Block.

BKE Shelf was recently awarded a three-year development drilling contract by Dragon Oil for its Cheleken development in Turkmenistan waters. BKE Shelf will service this contract with its two newbuild jackups. These LeTourneau S116E rigs were built by Lamprell in modular form in Sharjah and shipped through the Volga-Don Canal System for final assembly in Astrakhan, Russia. The rigs are capable of drilling to 9,146 m (30,000 ft) in up to 107 m (350 ft) of water.

Neptune, the first newbuild, was recently completed and commissioned. The rig started work in November. It will be replaced by Mercury when the latter is completed in November 2014. Neptune has a commitment to drill for another client in Russian waters at the end of 2014.

The future for the Caspian Sea looks very bright due to the large number of exploration licenses yet to be drilled. And if this leads to more discoveries, there will be a significant amount of development drilling required to put these fields online.