Total E&P Nederland and the Damen ASV 9020
Exploration & Production TOTAL E&P Nederland
Having been involved in the exploration and production of natural gas in the Netherlands and the North Sea continental shelf since 1964, Total E&P Nederland is one of the most experienced operators in the region. In that time it has seen many changes in production and support technology as oil prices have risen and fallen, and emerging technologies have offered new solutions to often long-standing issues of cost and safety. It is therefore not surprising that it has been investigating new methods of marine access. Historically, Total used jack-up support units for maintenance works on its gas platforms. Large teams could easily access installations 24/7. However, low oil prices compounded by the closure of a major field encouraged the group to look at more costeffective alternatives.
The step change came in the winter of 2016/17 when Total E&P Nederland started evaluating the various walk-to-work options that were then appearing on the market. As part of this process it developed a methodology based on the fact that, in the North Sea, adverse weather conditions in the winter months effectively limit marine access to platforms from April to October. The result was a four-stage annual cycle for operating marine access, starting with planning, followed by vessel preparation, then the actual work taking place offshore and finally completed by support and feedback before the cycle begins again. This formed the basis for the evaluation process.
Evaluating the market
When it came to reviewing the vessel options there was a wide range from which to choose, and the pricing was very competitive. However Damen’s Accommodation Support Vessel (ASV) 9020 stood out from the crowd. “Unlike the others on offer, it was a completely new design,” says Michael Leupen of Total E&P Nederland.
Both the hull and the interior layout were specifically designed around the walk-to-work concept and fully optimised for efficient operations.
Total E&P Nederland staff visited Damen’s headquarters at Gorinchem and travelled to the Damen yard in Galati, Romania, to witness the newbuilding process. These visits, together with the feedback received from the Marine Research Institute the Netherlands (MARIN), based in Wageningen, which intensively tested the ship model in its test basin, resulted in the decision to proceed with the ASV 9020. Michael continued, “Stability is key for vessels of this type, not only for the actual transfer process, but also for the overall well-being of the maintenance teams, most of whom are not experienced seafarers and so vulnerable to motion sickness.
The performance of the Damen hull is superb.
With the decision made to use the Damen ASV 9020, Total teamed up with Bibby Marine Services as a highly experienced owner and operator of offshore support vessels and a long-term charter contract was put in place.
The charter of the Bibby WaveMaster 1 began in April 2018. Her mission: to service Total E&P Nederland gas platforms in the Southern North Sea. The planned maintenance and other general routine works takes place on a 24/7 basis. When servicing smaller satellite platforms, the vessel remains at sea for two weeks at a time, after which it returns to port for 24 hours, where the entire maintenance team is changed, and half of the vessel’s crew is also swapped out.
Michael is enthusiastic about how the vessel has performed so far and the advantages that it provides. “Of course we have days of bad weather when the gangway cannot be safely deployed, but the advantage of having the vessel on station in the area of operations is that when the fog lifts or the sea state calms down the teams can be deployed almost immediately.”
Productivity is also enhanced. “Our teams start earlier and finish later than we normally achieve with helicopters. With the capability of deploying two, sixteen-man teams each day, if the day’s two platforms are close to each other, the vessel can deploy the first at 6 a.m. and the second within an hour later for a full day’s work.“ On Bibby WaveMaster 1 the gangway and the programmable elevator work together very well. We can transfer sixteen people in less than ten minutes, safely and efficiently. If necessary, we can also use the helideck to deploy smaller teams to other platforms in the area.”
“The vessel is also very flexible,” continues Michael. “For example, on one trip it supported two, quite different, operations by carrying a drilling team as well as a maintenance crew. The excellent facilities on board ensured that everyone was kept well fed and rested, and entertained, when not at work, for the duration of the assignments. Having it almost permanently at sea during the summer months also means that men and equipment can be delivered at very short notice should an urgent task elsewhere in the field suddenly require their attention.
A great start
Michael highlights the good performance of the vessel since it began operations for the group back in April, and is looking forward to the whole walk-to-work concept making further advances in the years ahead. “The gangway manufacturers are continuing to innovate,” he says. “Covered gangways with integral lighting are becoming more common, making for a safer transfer process, and new entrants into this sector are bringing with them fresh ideas that will continue to drive progress.”
He also sees the installation of gangways on fast crew supply vessels as introducing a new dynamic into the sector. “Not so much in the winter months for those fields in higher latitudes, but they will certainly have a major role to play. Efficiency is the key and we are looking at every possible option.”
He has no doubt that walk-to-work is now a mainstream logistical technique that many offshore operators are currently evaluating for its potential to reduce their operating costs as part of their overall installation and maintenance mix. The proven success of purpose-built vessels such as the Bibby WaveMaster 1 in the hands of experienced groups such as Total E&P Nederland is likely to only accelerate that process.