Petrobras P-34 FPSO evacuated, at risk of sinking

By an OGJ correspondent

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct. 14 -- The P-34 floating production storage and offloading vessel is listing and at risk of sinking off Rio de Janeiro state, according to Brazilian state oil Petróleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras). The FPSO has been evacuated.

The $200 million, 17,900 ton FPSO, installed between Barracuda and Caratinga fields in the Campos basin, has been listing at a 32° angle since Sunday afternoon, Carlos Tadeu da Costa Fraga, exploration and production manager of Petrobras, told OGJ.

"I believe the problem occurred because of an electrical failure that interfered in the pumps and ballast equipments responsible for maintaining the equilibrium of the FPSO, but no explosions or fires took place," he said. "The 76-member crew has been removed from the platform, and nobody was injured."

"At this point, the platform is stabilized, but the risk of sinking with an oil spill has not been averted," said Armando Carvalho, director of the oil works union in Rio de Janeiro state (Sindipetro).

On May 31, the union had warned Petrobras that a power failure had occurred in the same vessel, and the crew also had to be evacuated. The union leader disagrees with Petrobras and estimates that the P-34 is listing at 48° and not 32°.

Brazil's Globo television network reported that, according to photos by reporters who overflew the stricken FPSO, the listing appears to have reached 45°.

The P-34, which was converted from the PP Moraes oil tanker in 1997, handles production totaling 34,000 b/d of oil and 195,000 cu m/day of natural gas from the two fields. It has a design capacity to handle 60,000 b/d of oil.

Caratinga and Barracuda fields are responsible for 2.5% of total Campos basin production. The basin produces 1 million b/d of oil.

Petrobras has mobilized an emergency team of nine tugboats and helicopters in a bid to right and repair the listing FPSO platform and avoid losing $1 million/month in revenues in case the P-34 sinks.

The P-34 was built by Brazilian engineering and construction firm Marítima, the same company that built the P-36—the world's largest semisubmersible drilling-production platform—that sank March 2001 in the Campos basin after explosions and fire claimed the lives of 11 workers (OGJ Online, Mar. 15, 2001).

Political football
The incident threatens to reinforce the role that oil issues—and Petrobras in particular—have assumed as a political football in Brazil, coming on the heels of a hotly contested Oct. 6 presidential election that will be resolved with a runoff Oct. 27 (OGJ Online, Oct. 4, 2002).

Carlos Minc, a Rio de Janeiro state assemblyman and chairman of the state legislature's environmental committee, said that "80% of Brazil's platforms, including the P-34, do not have an environmental license, which is illegal."

According to Fraga, at full capacity the FPSO would have 45,000 cu m of crude oil stored "but a recent offloading of the oil took place, and the P-34 now has 12,000 cu m of petroleum stored."

The accident with the P-34 once again places Petrobras at the center of political debate during this presidential election period.

Nevertheless, a former Petrobras executive touted the company's record-setting accomplishments with the P-34.

"The P-34 achieved two world production records in the past: mooring over 864 m water depth and having the largest turret system, with 34 flow lines linking the wells" noted Wagner Victer, a former Rio de Janeiro state energy secretary and former Petrobras manager.

Victer has been speculated as a candidate for Petrobras president in case Luis Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers Party (PT) wins the runoff presidential election. Lula continues to remain well in front in all public opinion polls vs. Oct. 6 runner up and current government candidate Sen. Jose Serra.

Development project
Barracuda and Caratinga fields lie 160 km east of Macae on Block BC-50B, in water depths of 785 m in Barracuda and 1,035 m in Caratinga, although some wells lie in even deeper water down to 1,148 m. The two fields cover a combined area of 230 sq km.

Together, they are expected to add 30% to the current 1 million b/d output from the Campos basin.

Reserves for Barracuda are estimated at 867 million bbl of oil and 10.7 billion cu m of gas, while Caratinga, to the south, contains an estimated 362 million bbl and 4 billion cu m of gas.

The Petrobras-owned Barracuda & Caratinga Development Corp. has a $2.6 billion agreement with Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root and Halliburton Energy Services business units to develop the field. This covers a full engineering, procurement, installation, and construction contract; it also includes drilling all wells, the fabrication and installation of flowlines and risers, and the construction and installation of two FPSOs.

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