Shell bringing world's deepest floating oil production vessel to Gulf of Mexico

Royal Dutch Shell has launched its first floating oil production, storage and offloading vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. The facility will operate in 9,500 feet of water, making it the deepest of its kind in the world.

The vessel – named Turritella after a genus of sea snails with a long conical, spiraled shell – is part of the company’s multibillion-dollar Stones development about 200 miles southwest of New Orleans in the ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The facility is expected to start operations in early 2016.

The facility, known as a floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel, was designed to safely process and hold oil from Stones and other ultra-deep oilfields where infrastructure is sparse and the geologic challenges are unique.

Shell decided in May 2013 to move forward with its investment in Stones, kick-starting the design and build process for the floating production facility. Stones was discovered in 2005. Shell is the sole owner and operator of the oilfield. SBM Offshore built the Turritella and will operate it onsite.

Oil prices have since taken a dive, falling by more than half since last summer. Oil was trading at $47.67 per barrel during futures contract trading Wednesday afternoon (Sept 9).

This year, Shell announced plans to cut 6,500 jobs worldwide and slash capital spending 20 percent in response. That includes cuts at the company’s deepwater Gulf of Mexico operations hub in New Orleans. Shell employs about 94,000 worldwide.

Launching the Turritella continues Shell’s commitment to “safely and responsibly unlocking energy resources” in deeper waters, spokeswoman Kimberly Windon said in an email.

The facility is expected to hit a peak production of 50,000 barrels per year from two subsea wells in its first phase early next year. Tankers will transport crude oil from the vessel to U.S. refineries onshore.

Shell plans to add six more wells in later phases over coming years. The Stones field is estimated to hold more than 2 billion barrels of oil equivalent total.

The Turritella has several unique features. Shell is using a type of flexible pipe made of buoyant steel to carry oil and gas from the seafloor to the vessel, structures known as risers. In the case of a strong storm, the vessel can disconnect its mooring lines and risers from the well system and sail to a safer area.

This is the company’s first FPSO in the Gulf of Mexico. It operates similar vessels at other locations worldwide, including the Parque das Conchas development offshore Brazil.

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