Going Higher and Higher Evolving drilling and market trends keeping lift boat industry active
Larry Pearson is a freelance writer based in Kenner, Lousiana, U.S.A.
A basic conundrum in the lift boat business these days is, on one hand, the industry “experts” say the business on the shelf is at a standstill, yet construction stats show lift boats (which can work only on the shelf) are being built by several shipyards in lots of two or more.
“The reason is not all that hard to figure out,” said Dr. Joe Orgeron, chief technology officer for Montco Offshore, Galliano, Louisiana, U.S.A., a provider of lift boat services. “First, remember these vessels are involved in the complete life cycle of a well, not just as a support vessel during the drilling phase,” Orgeron said. “A big part of our business is what’s called ‘plug and abandonment.’ We are sort of the undertakers of the industry. We dismantle and plug old wells with cement per industry standards,” Orgeron added.
“Also, drilling is entering a new phase. Drilling on the shelf was typically no deeper than 4572 m. At that depth, drilling rigs hit the “pre-salt” band that, according to existing technology, signaled the bottom of oil/gas deposits,” Orgeron said. But advances in drilling technology and 3-D and 4-D seismic advances have shown oil and gas deposits to exist at 7620 to 10 668 m. “Many drillers have gone back to old leases and found hydrocarbons at these extreme depths, and that’s good for our business to supply support for these activities,” Orgeron reported.
kW Jastrum bow thruster is also a part of the generator package. On the electric generating side, a pair of Caterpillar C9 diesels delivers 215 kW per engine. A lift boat uses large amounts of diesel power to run hydraulic pumps that operate the leg-jacking system and the two cranes. “Accommodations include 42 berths for 10 crew and 32 workers. With a complete galley and three washers and three dryers, these vessels offer firstclass food and other amenities,” Orgeron said. “Often, a crew needs to carry considerable system packages, tools and other cargo. Both the Paul and the Caitlin have 576 m2 of open deck area and a maximum deck loading of 385 554 kg,” Orgeron reported.
Rodriguez Shipbuilding, Bayou La Batre, Alabama, U.S.A., built both the Paul and the Caitlin simultaneously. The Paul was finished first, and after launch the vessel went to Bollinger Shipyard in Amelia, Louisiana, U.S.A., where the shorter “temporary” legs were removed,
lengthened to 71.3 m and reinstalled. Several bridges on the way to the Gulf of Mexico prevented the full-length legs from being installed at the Bayou La Batre location. The same situation occurred with the cranes, which were also added at the shipyard in Amelia by Bollinger. The process was repeated a few weeks later for the Caitlin.
Including the two new vessels, Montco Offshore has eight vessels with leg lengths from 44.2 to 74.7 m. They are designing a “super lift boat” with a working name of MontcoSaurus for 2011 delivery. The feature of this new vesselwill be a crane with 500 tons of liftingpower. “With this lift boat, we can pull the jacket of a well from the water anddo other projects that currently use a derrick barge,” Orgeron said. The design is entirely new, the first using total diesel-electric power for jacking, crane operation and propulsion.
The propulsion system will be a Z-drive system. There will be no more huge hydraulic systems and lines, although the cranes and the jacking system will use hydraulic pumps for power, driven by electric motors rather than hydraulic motors. This vessel will have 99 m legs, giving the vessel a maximum working water depth of 74.2 m. It will have three cranes — 25, 60 and 500 tons. There are 126 berths and open deck area is 1091.6 m2. Main gen-sets are a pair of Caterpillar 3516 diesels rated at 2500 kW each and two auxiliary gen-sets, each with a 910 kW rating.
“For this vessel and for the Paul and Caitlin as well, we are developing the bid packages for the engines, the hydraulics, the cranes and the interior finishing. In the past, the shipyard included these packages with their overall bid, but we will have better control of the process if we do it,” Orgeron added. “We hope to have our bid packages complete soon with the shipyard cutting steel by the end of 2009. Because of the size of this project, shipyards such as those that have built our vessels in the past may not be large enough for the MontcoSaurus, but we shall see,”
Speaking of building two lift boats at the same time, that’s what Superior Energy, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A., has done. In early 2009, they added lift boats #29 and #30 to their fleet. These lift boats, Superior Influence and Superior Respect, have 80.5 m legs that are able to work in 61 m of water. The boats were built in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, U.S.A., by Boconco Inc. Founded by “Rusty” Basarge in 1997, the company has built several oil field vessels in the past. Both of these vessels were originally started for another company, but during construction theywere bought by Superior.
Jerry Dardar, ISM director of the Marine Service Division for Superior Energy said, “These super-capable vessels open up new markets for our Gulf of Mexico customers that have wells located in 45.7 to 61 m deep water. Thelift boats have features customers want such as a 200 ton crane, a heliport, an office and three VIP accommodations for company executives, and a maximum deck load of 680 389 kg so the vessel can carry a huge amount of materials and tools. “It’s not only the amount of cargo we can take to the well for installation but the amount of discarded or recyclable material we can haul from the well to shore that customers appreciate,”
Dardar added. The 44.2 by 33.5 m main deck yields 789.7 m2 of open deck area, unusually large for a lift boat. Propulsion power for the vessels is via a pair of Caterpillar C32 engines, rated at 1492 kW each. The propellersare fitted with Kort nozzles. Two generators, rated at 300 kW, are driven by Cummins QSM-11 engines. A pair of 522 kW Caterpillar C18 engines drive the hydraulic system that powers thejacking system, and another C18 powers the cranes. A Caterpillar C9 gen-set rated at 175 kW is used for emergency power. The two vessels each have accommodations for 10 crew and 35 contractors and a large galley, mess and stores for meal service. There is also a TV lounge and laundry services onboard.
The 200 ton crane is a lattice boom type that is 36.4 m. The 55 ton crane is telescopic from 16.7 to 30.5 m. These two vessels have become quite popular in the Gulf of Mexico and, according to Dardar, “are kept almost continually in use except for trips to Port Fourchon to reload with cargo and contractors and replenish our vessel supplies.”
Semco Inc., a shipbuilder in the New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A., suburb of Jean Lafitte, builds lift boats — big lift boats, almost exclusively. Most recently they have completed three such vessels —two for KS Energy Services, Singapore and one for an undisclosed interest. These large lift boats have 85.3 m legs and hulls that measure 53.8 m with a beam of 34.5 m. Cranes are 200 tons each, mounted on the forward port and starboard legs. Typically, there is one large work crane and a much smaller crane used for vessel tasks, but not on these Semco vessels.
“These cranes are built and installed by our Sea-Trax subsidiary located in Houston [Texas, U.S.A.],” said Allen Moore, general manager of Semco. As an aside, although Semco built two nearly identical lift boats for KS Energy Services, only one remains in service. The first one built, Titan I, lies at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It slipped off a heavy lift ship on its delivery voyage to the United Kingdom. The delivery vessel developed engine problems during a storm and the lift boat was literally pitched off the ship, capsized and sank. Fortunately KS Energyhad a second vessel being built, Titan II, and it is now on-site, replacing Titan I.
The application for Titan II is interesting in that it is nonhydrocarbon. It is being used to service a wind farm in the Bering Sea, a growing application for lift boats. More than a pair of 200 ton work cranes distinguishes this series of vessels. The vessels have nine Caterpillar diesel engines onboard. A pair of 3512B en-gines propels the vessels, via Twin Disc gears and Kaplan 200.67 cm propellers running inside 203.2 cm Kort nozzles. Two 3412 engines power 500 kW generators, and each of the aforementioned cranes also uses a 3412 in a closed-loop hydraulic system for lifting power. A pair of running 3412s also accomplishes jacking in a closed-loop hydraulic system. Finally, a 3408 rated at 190 kW supplies emergency power via battery auto start with the cooling radiator mounted on the generator skid.
There are accommodations for 50 people on three levels of the superstructure with a large main deck galley, mess and stores area for food service. The ability to house and feed the crew
and 40-plus workers is a main feature of a large lift boat, enabling it to stay on the job for weeks. The third of these three vessels was delivered third quarter 2009. Semco is also cutting steel on a lift boat built to an A.K. Suda design that has 97.5 m legs and a hull that is 59.4 m long by 35.7 m wide, with a depth of 4.3 m unusual for a lift boat.
Suda, a Metairie, Louisiana-based naval architect, said the vessel will feature a pair of 275 ton cranes each mounted on the forward legs of the vessel. “It is being built to full SOLAS class and will work for an undisclosed buyer outside of the United States,” Suda said. These three 2009 lift boat projects are leading the way in the development of lift boat technology that promises wider use of these vessels because longer leg lengths can dramatically increase the number of projects available for these vessels to service. The market is shifting as well. Non-oil and gas projects, such as setting and servicing wind farms, can incrementally increase the demand for