Petrobras now operates more floating production platforms (including self-owned and chartered ones) than any other company in the world, according to Petrodata, a consulting firm that specializes in providing information about the global oil industry. According to the company’s latest figures, as of December 2014 Petrobras operated 110 offshore production units off the Brazilian coast.
This total included 45 floating platforms, broken down into 29 floating production, storage and offloading vessels (FPSOs), 15 semi-submersible platforms, and one production vessel, P-53, which differs from FPSOs in that it does not store oil. Besides these 45 floating platforms, the company also operated four floating storage and offloading vessels (FSOs).
In December 2014, floating platforms off the Brazilian coast operated by Petrobras produced an average of 2 million barrels of oil per day (bpd)—88% of the total volume of oil produced in the country—and 51 million m3 of gas per day—57% of domestic gas production. These volumes do not include Petrobras’ share of the output of the FPSOs Frade and Fluminense, installed in the Frade and Bijupirá-Salema fields, in Campos Basin, whose respective operators are Chevron and Shell, and in which Petrobras holds minority stakes.
First offshore systems. Following the discovery in the 1960s of oil deposits in shallow waters on the continental shelf, the first offshore production units installed by Petrobras were fixed platforms, attached to the seabed, first off the coast of Northeast Brazil and then in the Southeast region. As exploration advanced into deep waters in Campos Basin in the early 1980s, the company tapped the new fields using semi-submersible platforms and FPSOs instead.
One of the FPSOs’ biggest advantages is that oil transfer infrastructure does not have to be installed on them, given that they come already equipped with storage systems and the oil produced is transferred to the coast via shuttle tankers. In addition, as they can be constructed by converting the hull of a preexisting ship, they enable fields to come on line more quickly, thereby earning revenue faster.
Pioneering FPSOs. The spread of exploration into deep waters during the oil crisis demanded a fast and economically feasible solution to put into production fields such as Marlim and Albacora—the first ones located at depths of more than 500 meters. At these depths, it was technically impossible to install fixed platforms secured to the seabed. Thus, in the midst of an acute oil supply crisis, which required recently discovered fields to be brought on stream quickly, the solution was to convert large oil tankers, installing oil processing modules on their decks and so transforming them into production facilities.
With more than 30 years of experience in using this type of platform, Petrobras now operates more FPSOs than any other company. The pioneering experience in this area was the conversion of an oil tanker, Presidente Prudente de Moraes, into a platform-ship, in 1977, in order to accelerate production from the shallow-water Garoupa field, in Campos Basin. The result was a significant saving of time and resources. It was also the first time that Petrobras had used the FPSO concept, adapted to the setting of Brazilian deep waters.
Having achieved good results from this experience, the company then started to invest more and more in converting existing oil tankers into long-term production systems. The new platform-ships were the best strategy for a company that was set to produce the bulk of its output in deep and ultra-deep waters. Today, Petrobras produces nearly all its oil (around 90%) offshore, in shallow, deep and ultra-deep waters, using several types of production facilities.
The innovative technologies developed at its Cenpes research center confirmed FPSOs as one of the most suitable solutions for fields a long distance from the coast and in deep or ultra-deep waters. Innovative solutions created by Brazilian technicians, such as polyester ropes and torpedo anchors, have improved mooring systems and enabled a better distribution of subsea systems, as well as the installation of a larger number of platforms within the same area.
Following the discovery of the pre-salt fields in Santos Basin in the early years of this century, located more than 250 km (155 miles) offshore and at water depths of more than 2,000 meters (6,562 feet), FPSOs represent the best technical and financial solution, Petrobras says. This province is now home to seven FPSOs, including two facilities currently undertaking extended well tests.