Fortune favors the bold, or so the saying goes. Launching a new company in a highly competitive market like offshore drilling would certainly attract Fortuna’s interest, but being prepared is what will help carry any startup to the bank. Preparation enables new companies to stay ahead of and stand apart from the competition. Experience teaches that preparation also will carry a company far. Preparation and experience are two ways Cayman Island-based Blue Ocean Drilling is setting itself apart from the pack. A deep understanding of its clients—the operator—is another.

“The focus for us has been to look at what operators want,” said Tony Beebe, executive vice president of operations for the company. “They want a rig that drills efficiently and reliably and is crewed by well-trained personnel. Those are the fundamental basics. We hope to do those as well as or better than anybody else in the market. It is a tall order.”

As a startup offshore drilling company, Blue Ocean has made great strides in the year or so that it has been in business. By essentially starting with a fresh, clean sheet of paper, the company has focused on selecting its rig and equipment designs necessary to operate.  The company is focused on key markets where it sees long-term growth potential based on the age of the fleet as well as fleet growth to meet the production goals set by the nation or projects. Being new brings with it advantages and disadvantages, Beebe noted.

“We don’t have the legacy of utilizing old systems on new rigs, but you also have to create everything from scratch,” he said. “Realistically, it comes down to the people you hire, the systems you build and what you can do as a team. Doing the fundamentals really well is the foundation of our operational excellence.”

Building the foundation

In early 2014 the company contracted with China’s Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding for the construction of two Gusto MSC CJ46-X100-D design deepwater jackup rigs. The high-spec units operate in water depths up to 114 m (375 ft) and perform drilling operations at depths up to 9.1 km (30,000 ft) with an accommodation capacity of up to 120 crew members. The X-Y cantilever design (21 m by 12 m or 70 ft by 40 ft) provides a larger drilling envelope at max loads, according to the company. In addition to offering offline stand building for increased operational efficiency, the rigs are equipped with a 7,500-psi mud system with three 2,200-hp mud pumps. The first two rigs are expected to be delivered by the shipyard in second-quarter 2016 and fourth-quarter 2016.

“To remove risks for our end clients, we were very careful in picking out the rig by selecting an established, proven design,” said Beebe. “We also were careful in selecting equipment and what yard we went with to build our rigs. Those three lay the foundation in removing risk for our operators.”

In October 2014 the company announced that it has in place option agreements in third-quarter 2014 and first-quarter 2015 for the construction of up to four Gusto MSC CJ50-X120-E design deepwater jackup rigs. This design of high-spec jackup rig offers operation depths of up to 122 m (400 ft) and can drill to depths up to 10.6 km (35,000 ft). It also offers offline stand building and dual mud systems for increased operational efficiency.

Dr. Yuanhui Sun, CEO, chairman and president of the company, noted that to the basic design of the CJ50 the company made additional investments for improvements to meet industry requirements down the road.

“For example, we increased the accommodations from 120 to 150 people, increased the hydraulic horsepower and topdrive capabilities and enhanced the mud cleaning capacities of the rig,” he said. “These modifications will help with operational efficiencies and help our market capability to compete for jobs in the future. Basically, with similar design rigs we offer differences that will really put us closer to customers picking our rig over competitor rigs.”

Maximizing productivity

According to Beebe, productivity on a rig is driven by what is happening on the rotary table or the wellbore, with a lot of activity that can be driven offline. As part of its design and selection process, the company looked not only at offshore processes but land too.

“Offshore has been a leader in pipehandling, racking pipe and building stands offline,” Beebe said. “But there are areas that have not been as well thought out or planned for jackup wells offshore as they have on land.

“We looked at doing a lot of those things so that the productivity on the well—for example, the time you’re doing well construction—is maximized. It’s the little things in the design—how we ran piping, how we put hoses in place, how we set up our test assemblies, how we laid our equipment for logistics—that were done to focus on efficiency in the wellbore.”

Another area the company focused on was the cleaning of the wellbore, and it applied a land-based approach to its offshore operations.

“Most wells that a jackup drills are deviated, and some are horizontal like a land rig. When you’re drilling horizontal or deviated, the amount of mud pumped and the flow rates change. Your ability to clean the hole drives a lot of your drilling rates and performance, so we looked at the areas involved in drilling that horizontal well section and made adjustments in the rig design.

“The dual mud systems of the CJ50 offer the ability to build a mud system offline and be prepared to switch from one mud system to another,” said Beebe. “A lot of wells use three different mud systems. So there are two switches and—depending on the rig and conditions—it can sometimes take 24 hours to switch mud systems. On our rigs, it should be 30 minutes. We did a lot of those things to help reduce the time on the well, help improve drilling performance and help keep the mud in the condition the operators want.”

In addition to flow rates, the group looked at other areas like hook loads where they could add value to constructing the well and then build those into the design and selection of equipment, Beebe added.

“We focused on activities in the well and on the surface,” he said.

Adapting to innovation

It is no secret that the industry is slow to adopt new technology, but there has been a gradual shift over the years as systems are proven reliable—for example, digital controls. This shift has delivered with it a wealth of new data flowing into the dog house, requiring additional training to learn the nuances of drilling by joystick.

“The industry has used digital controls for a while, and within those controls there’s considerably more communication. There’s a lot more data analysis and data available off the systems,” Beebe said. “Those are the fundamentals, and that’s taken place over the last 15 years, but it got a lot of momentum in the last 10. The digital technology, the communication and the data have led to improved decision-making and enhanced automation.”

Adapting to innovations like automation takes time, and for Blue Ocean Drilling the clock is ticking with just little over a year to go before its first jackup leaves the yard.

Contact the author, Jennifer Presley, at