For the foreseeable future, the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, and West Africa will be three of the hottest offshore markets. As activity ramps up, the industry is meeting a higher demand for hi-spec ultra-deepwater (UDW) drillships. With one of the youngest fleets on the market, Ensco Plc. is poised to work steadily in all three of these markets.

According to John Knowlton, senior vice president, technical, Ensco, “Historically, drillships aren’t as well suited to harsh environments as semisubmersibles.” Most drillships are better suited for mild environments that feature extreme water depths in remote areas.

“That is what the three most active areas -- Gulf of Mexico, West Africa, and Brazil -- have in common,” he added.

Driven by an ongoing trend of successful offshore discoveries, Ensco is answering the demand. It announced on April 5, 2012, the order of a new advanced-capability, UDW drillship to be built at the Samsung Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. Shipyard in Geoje, South Korea.

ENSCO DS-8 will be the sixth Samsung DP3 drillship in the company’s young fleet. Part of the company’s strategy is achieved through the standardization of equipment. “We have developed a synergy of consistency by designing our fleet with the same components,” Knowlton said at an analysts briefing held in Corpus Christi, TX. “By designing these vessels for interchangeability of crews, supplies, and spare parts, maintenance is much easier.”

The ship is scheduled for delivery in the third quarter 2014.

The contract includes options for two additional drillships of the same design, and the fleet expansion will extend the company’s advantage of operating the newest ultra-deepwater fleet among global drilling contractors.

The construction cost is expected to be approximately $645 million. The company has ordered five previous Samsung UDW drillships ordered since 2007. Each is capable of drilling in water depths of up to 12,000 ft with a true vertical depth of 40,000 ft.


The ENSCO DS-8 is rated for 12,000 ft of water and 40,000 ft true vertical depth.  (Illustration courtesy of Ensco)

The ENSCO DS-8 will feature retractable thrusters, enhanced safety and environmental features, improved dynamic-positioning capabilities and advanced drilling and completion functionality, including below-main-deck riser storage, triple-fluid systems, offline conditioning capability and enhanced and third-party facilities.

“Everything is huge,” Knowlton said referring to the mere scale of the latest acquisition. “These are truly remarkable machines.”

The company’s latest addition to its DS Series is based on Samsung’s GF12000 hull design, which measures 755 by 125 ft. The vessel offers a payload of 22,000 metric tons and features a 1,250-ton hoisting system. The rig’s design includes a number of advanced capabilities including redundant, offline, tubular-stand building. The 165-ton active heave-compensating, construction crane will allow deployment of subsea production equipment without interfering with ongoing drilling operations.

The rig -- initially outfitted for drilling in 10,000 ft of water -- will be equipped with dynamic positioning in compliance with DPS-3 certification; six 5.5-megawatt thrusters for enhanced station-keeping; expanded drilling fluids capacity; a 15,000-psi subsea well control system with six rams, upgradable to seven rams, and a second BOP stack; burner boom for well testing; and living quarters for up to 200 personnel.

The company’s three active DP3 drillships are contracted into 2016 in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, and West Africa. ENSCO DS-6 is undergoing pre-commissioning modifications in preparation for its first well assignment under a five-year contract with BP. The company’s ENSCO DS-7 is scheduled for delivery in the second half of 2013.

With the delivery of the DS-8, Ensco’s ultra-deepwater fleet will have an average age of two years.

Contact the author, Tayvis Dunnahoe, at