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Ivanhoe, SBM Team Up in Alliance for Offshore Heavy Oil Development

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Ivanhoe Energy and SBM Offshore announced they have formed a global strategic alliance (Alliance), combining their respective expertise to create Floating, Production, Upgrading, Storage and Offloading vessels (FPUSO).

The two companies have combined their respective technologies and experience to produce a first of its kind design for offshore facilities that will economically produce and upgrade heavy oil from offshore fields with crude oil quality down to 10 degree API gravity, or lower.

"We expect this combination of technologies to become the pre-eminent method for producing and upgrading heavy oil at offshore locations around the world," said Michael Wyllie, SBM's chief technology officer.

Industry experts have estimated that offshore heavy oil resources exceed 500 billion barrels recoverable. Given the global abundance of such oil deposits and depleting conventional oil supplies, this Alliance creates significant potential for the offshore heavy oil sector.

SBM is a publicly traded, world leader in providing offshore Floating, Production, Storage, and Offloading (FPSO) vessels. With a market cap of over $3 billion and over 7,000 employees, SBM currently has around 1 million barrels of throughput per day from a fleet of 16 production systems in operation world-wide.

Ivanhoe Energy's Heavy-to-Light (HTL) process is a partial upgrading technology that drastically reduces the viscosity of stranded heavy oil resources and produces a high quality synthetic crude oil that commands greater value from refineries around the world. In addition to creating operating efficiencies, the technology will greatly improve the economics of heavy oil development. HTL's small footprint and modularization capability makes installation on FPSOs possible.

Moreover, by providing a source of lighter oil on the FPUSO, some of this fluid can be re-circulated back to the subsea wells, providing a robust solution to overcome the flow assurance challenges of subsea heavy oil wells. This important feature can be an enabler for heavy oil field developments, especially those in deep water.

"Ivanhoe Energy and SBM collaborated over the last two years to develop this new concept," said Dr. Michael Silverman, Ivanhoe Energy's chief technology officer. "In 2012, with engineering support from AMEC Engineering, we completed the conceptual design of an offshore FPUSO facility that will upgrade up to 60,000 barrels per day."

The Alliance is exploring a number of potential business models and applications. Given the number of existing and potential FPSOs, this Alliance is another important avenue to commercialize the HTL process in the near term.

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