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Giant Rig Set for Gulf Gas Search

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Saudi Aramco is expanding its drilling rig fleet by 100 percent over a two-year period, going from 55 in 2004 to a planned 110 in 2006.

The increase is to meet plans to drill several hundred wells in the next several years, part of the ambitious expansion of the company's crude oil and gas program. This is the most aggressive ramp-up of drilling activity in the history of the oil industry.

One of the recently contracted rigs is the massive 3,000-horsepower Ensco 76 deep gas exploration rig. "This is the largest rig Saudi Aramco has ever contracted," said Fahad Mulaik, a superintendent in Northern Area Oil Drilling Operations. "It will be used to perform deep gas exploration drilling operations in several locations throughout the Arabian Gulf."

The first location is the wildcat exploration well Karan-6, east of Tanajib, off the northeastern coast of the Kingdom. The rig is programmed to drill to a depth of more than 5,180 meters, the first drilling undertaken for deep offshore gas since the 1980s.

"We will be using very specialized equipment for this operation," said Tom Emmons, Ensco 76 drilling engineer. "That's because the target wells will be some of the most challenging that Saudi Aramco has ever drilled due to the high temperature and high pressure of these wells.

"The Karan-6 location is actually one of the shallower prospects," said Mulaik. "Several of the locations will require more than 20,000 feet (more than 6,000 m) of drilling. However, the Ensco 76 can drill up to 30,000 feet (more than 9,000 m)."

A second exploration rig will join the Ensco 76 during 2006 in drilling deep exploration prospects in the Gulf. The two rigs will drill 11 prospects scattered through Saudi territorial waters. The entire project will last from five to six years. This reflects a substantial investment by Saudi Aramco to discover new gas fields.

"The strong outlook for energy makes it necessary for Saudi Aramco to invest in this type of exploration," said Mansour Al-Hammad, a superintendent in Northern Area Oil Drilling Operations. "This is very expensive and can cost three to four times as much as drilling on land."

A Long Haul

The Ensco 76 is owned by Ensco Arabia Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of one of the biggest offshore drilling contractors in the world. Its journey to the Arabian Gulf was a long one.

The journey began in Trinidad, in the Caribbean, where the rig was in operation before being contracted by Saudi Aramco. It was moved to Sabine Pass, Texas, to be completely overhauled according to Saudi Aramco specifications. From there, it was loaded on to a trans-ocean carrier and arrived in Dammam 44 days later.

The rig is on location and has taken the initial steps of spudding the Karan-6 well.

"We are very careful to ensure that all equipment is in perfect condition, and the personnel are well-trained," said Mulaik. "Our primary concern is to run a safe rig and make sure the operation meets all of its objectives."

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