By Helen Trouten Torres, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Petrobras, the world leader in sub-salt oil extraction which is 54 percent directly owned by the Brazilian government, is expanding its borders at sea with the deployment of self-sustaining platforms located far offshore which have been dubbed ‘floating cities.’ After discovering stocks in the Atlantic that may make Brazil one of the world’s largest exporters of oil, the company plans to build dozens of new platforms over the coming years.
The oil giant already has a fleet of 86 fixed and 46 floating rigs that are a workplace for nearly 45,000 people, who enjoy 21 days of rest for every fourteen days on board.
“Each platform is a floating city with all autonomous services, including energy and water.” said Francisco Castro, manager of platform P-18, a platform the size of a football stadium located 117 kilometers offshore in the Atlantic ocean which operates in a region where the water depth is 910 meters.
P-18 platform, the first semi-submersible platform in the world with the capacity to produce 100,000 barrels of oil and two million cubic meters of gas per day, began operating in 1994 and today draws 34 thousand barrels per day from the Campos basin.
In addition to its entire productive infrastructure, P-18 also has a heliport, an auditorium, three TV rooms, two games rooms with Internet access and video conferencing, a gym, and a library. “Despite being 100 miles from the coast, we have everything we need, including a laundrette and a bakery” said Castro who is jokingly referred to as ‘Mayor’ of the floating city.
To function autonomously, the platform has two electric generators powered by the extracted gas, a central water supply capacity for a tank of 736 cubic meters, and fiber-optic networks for communications with the mainland offering telephony, internet and television. “The only thing we don’t produce is the food we eat, which arrives by ship from the mainland once a month. Fishing is prohibited in areas of oil exploration” he added.
The P-18 is already outdated compared to the new platforms that Petrobras have ordered to expand their operations. “Some of the new platforms have a swimming pool and indoor soccer court. Many workers are keen to be transferred to the new platforms.” Castro said.
The Director of Exploration and production at Petrobras, Guilherme Estrella, estimates the company will need at least fifty new platforms, sixteen in full operation by the end of the year, to explore new areas. This represents major logistical challenges as they will be located about 300 km offshore. To transport employees to the current platforms, Petrobras currently runs 70,000 monthly helicopter trips, unfeasible at a distance three times farther offshore.
To this end, the company is studying the possibility of installing ‘metal artificial islands’ to act as logistics centers and dormitories, where workers would arrive in boats or helicopters before proceeding towards their floating cities.
“We are going to have a very big challenge to add capacity,” Petrobras Chief Executive and President Jose Sergio Gabrielli told a shipping conference. “The capacity must increase,” said Gabrielli — a boom for the shipping and rig companies.