Baker Hughes introduces biggest fracturing vessel in gulf

Sam Fletcher
OGJ Online

HOUSTON, June 7 --- The Baker Oil Tools division of Baker Hughes Inc., Houston, Thursday introduced the largest proppant-capacity fracturing vessel for deepwater work in the Gulf of Mexico.

The converted vessel was rechristened the MV HR Hughes for Howard R. Hughes who, in 1909, founded Hughes Tool Co., one of the forerunners of today's Baker Hughes oilfield service company.

It was converted from the C-Cadet, a more conventional offshore vessel built in 1997 for Edison Chouest Offshore LLC, Galliano, La., at its affiliate North American Shipbuilding yard in Larose, La. Edison Chouest Offshore is a major supplier of seismic vessels and supply boats to the offshore industry. North American Shipbuilding builds only for Edison Chouest.

The C-Cadet formerly was used as a marine seismic vessel in the Mediterranean before returning to the North American Shipbuilding yard for conversion, which involved cutting the vessel in half at midsection and inserting a 50-ft extension to accommodate the extra equipment needed by Baker Oil Tools. That stretched the boat to 270 ft, with a width of 56 ft and 1,600 sq ft of cargo deck.

"That's the fourth conversion we've done like that in the last couple of years," said Lonnie Thibodeaux, communications director for Edison Chouest. The company retains ownership of the new HR Hughes vessel, which is under a 5-year lease to Baker Oil Tools.

The HR Hughes has a pump rate of 60 bbl/min and a proppant capacity of 2.2 million lb, with about 1 million lb stored below decks and more than 1 million lb pumpable from facilities on deck.

"There's one vessel in the North Sea with more capacity, but I don't believe there are any in the gulf with as much capacity," said Carroll Newman, senior operations manager for Baker Oil Tools, who helped design the vessel. There are only about 26 high-performance marine fracturing and stimulation vessels in the business, "depending on who's counting," he said.

After 20 years with Halliburton Co., Newman had taken early retirement when Baker Oil Tools lured him back into the offshore stimulation business with the opportunity to help design a top-of-the-line vessel.

"We went to our clients and asked what was most important to them. They said they were looking for assurance that we could do the job on a deepwater well with little or no down time," Newman said.

The result is what Baker Oil Tools officials describe as "the most redundant offshore fracturing capability" in the industry, with backups that ensure work can continue even with catastrophic failures of some onboard systems.

That includes independent two proppant silos with 10,200 cu ft capacity; eight main proppant bins with 10,000 lb/min transfer rate from supplies below deck; side-by-side twin blenders; twin Coflexip hoses through which the proppant slurry is pumped at 15,000 psi operating pressure; and backup hydraulic systems. The vessel also offers excess hydraulic horsepower and a specially designed low-pressure manifold from the blender to the pumps that electronically reroutes gravel-packing slurry to allow treatment to continue even with the loss of a blender or frac pump.

The result is "two complete blending systems that can work in tandem or separately. In the event of catastrophic failure of one system, we can immediately bring the other system up," Newman said.

The design also allows for continuous monitoring of the system, checking current performance against previous performance, to immediately spot the need for maintenance or repairs, he said.

Operating data can be transmitted in real time via satellite to special Baker Hughes data rooms in Houston, New Orleans, and Lafayette, La., or even to a laptop computer almost anywhere in the world.

Moreover, Newman said, "This vessel has a true DP-1 system" with azimuthing stern thrusters and a drop-down bow thruster specifically designed for dynamically positioned station keeping in the widest possible operating window for weather and sea conditions in the gulf.

With the vessel's backup battery and hydraulic systems, he said, "We can maintain station for up to 2 hr in the event of a complete failure of the ship systems." Newman said, "Once we start pumping, we're committed to completing that job, so everything has got to be perfect before we start. That takes a lot of preplanning."

The MV HR Hughes is scheduled to start working in the gulf July 1 after completing sea trials. The vessel can carry enough supplies to "handle three or four jobs and stay out about 2 weeks," said Newman.

Baker Oil Tools has two other fracturing and stimulation vessels operating in the gulf: The RC Baker, launched in 1999, and the Republic Tide, which has been in service since 1998.

Contact Sam Fletcher at

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