Leap in technology drives joint approach to dynamic positioning

Efforts to develop a new global standard for dynamic-positioning systems have been driven by a belief that the current standard is too open to interpretation, according to one of the key people behind this joint industry project.

DNV GL is leading efforts to create a global standard on dynamic positioning (Image credit: DNV GL)

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“The industry is pushing hard for the new standard because they want to ensure calculations by different parties are done in a uniform way so the results are comparable and can be verified,” Aleks Karlsen, DNV GL’s principal specialist in dynamic-positioning (DP) systems, told Upstream Intelligence.

At present the standard is not rigid enough, leading operators to select a method, or present the results in a certain way, in order to support a specific design, technology, or vessel, he added.

DNV GL has led the development of the DP Capability Assessment Project, which has involved at least 14 operators, suppliers, and other firms including BP, Statoil, Wärtsilä, Rolls-Royce, and Kongsberg. Around 1,400 vessels with DP capability have adopted DNV GL standards. The classification society expects to make the new standard freely available by July 1, 2016.

Plenty of incentives

Recent technology developments have reduced environmental footprints and costs, and added an incentive to develop a new global standard. “The new technology allows us to operate the assets closer to their margins and this means a greater need for information about the assets capacity,” Karlsen said.

The new standard introduces new DP Capt (capability) numbers which are related to the well-known Beaufort Scale and are easier for operators and mariners to grasp, he explained: “You need to be a hydrodynamic expert to understand all the details of the current standard. The new numbers can be understood by the layman even if the calculations are still complex.”

The Beaufort Wind Scale was developed in 1905 by the UK Royal Navy's Sir Francis Beaufort (Source: US NOAA's Storm Prediction Center)

There will be three different levels of assessment. The lowest will offer a static and fully prescriptive method to ensure different designs are comparable. DNV GL has promised to develop a free calculation tool for these ships. The second level will allow for more project-specific adjustments: typical uses could include unconventional new designs and technologies.

The third level will be the most advanced: it will be used when more information is required about a vessel’s dynamic behavior during specific operations. Karlsen explained: “It’s for when an oil major carries out a multi-billion project and the ship must be very precise in delivering the services. You can’t afford to destroy a subsea structure by getting the measures half a meter wrong. Or it might be a risky project in high winds, or strong currents, and you need enough capacity to be sure of maintaining the position.”

Deepwater trigger

The DP market is likely to grow in the next few years as sales of floating production systems (FPSs) and floating production, storage and offloading vessels (FPSOs) rise, according to Douglas-Westwood analyst Ben Wilby. DPs are commonly used to keep FPSs and FPSOs in position in deepwater, especially when operations take place in rough seas.

Douglas-Westwood predicted recently that the Gulf of Mexico alone would see as many orders for FPSs in 2016 – four – as there were globally in 2015. Signs of a positive upturn were already being seen in the third quarter of 2015 with the awarding of the Appomattox floating production semi-submersible, the most expensive unit ordered all year. The energy consultancy expects the FPSO market will peak in 2017 as sanctioned projects go forward.

Global FPS capex is expected to peak in 2017 (Source: Douglas-Westwood)

Transparency Market Research (TMR) expressed similar optimism in its own report on the FPSO market, predicting the market would grow at a compound-annual rate of 16.2% through to 2021 from its 2014 value of $15.86 billion. TMR attributes this predicted rise in demand to increasing investment in offshore exploration of oil and gas in deepwater and ultra-deepwater, mainly off the coast of Africa and Brazil.

Wilby told Upstream Intelligence that Douglas-Westwood’s next forecast, due for publication in a few weeks, would be slightly less optimistic than its previous one. But he still expects the market to grow.

“We are still predicting improvements, but we are not as positive as back in October when we weren’t expecting oil price falls below US$30. So much depends on the oil price, and long-term oil price forecasts, and they are difficult to predict,” Wilby said.

“There’s still a lot of interest in FPSs and spars in the Gulf of Mexico, but we’re seeing project delays. For example, the deadline for contractors to submit plans for work on [BP’s] Mad Dog 2 [project in the Gulf of Mexico] has been put back.”  

By David W. Smith