Deepwater testing center off Toulon may gain financial backing

A project to establish a deepwater testing center off Toulon on the French Riviera should be ready for submission to possible financial partners within the next 2 months.

By an OGJ correspondent

PARIS, Aug. 27 -- A project to establish a deepwater testing center off Toulon on the French Riviera should be ready for submission to possible financial partners within the next 2 months.

The project is now at the study stage within a company called Cybernetix, a 35%-owned subsiduary of Comex, which has long specialized in deepwater robotics and is run by Chairman and CEO Henri-Germain Deleuze.

The study is backed by the public research bodies Comité d'Études Pétrolières et Marines (Oil and Marine Study Committee) and the Institut de Recherche et d'Études pour l'Exploitation de la Mer (Ifremer, the Research and Study Institute for Marine Development). TotalFinaElf SA also has shown an interest in the project.

Financing of the project will be sought among regional authorities, the French government, and other French partners, as well as European authorities.

Project goals
The project—which Cybernetix R&D Commercial Manager Thierry Copros claims should be a profitable one—aims to set up what he believes is the world's first base to provide the equipment needed for deepwater hydrocarbon exploration, development, and production facilities testing. The idea generated from the Girassol field exploration and development campaign in the Gulf of Guinea off Angola. That field, which came on stream at yearend 2001, is operated by TotalFinaElf in partnership with units of ExxonMobil Corp, BP PLC, Statoil ASA, and Norsk Hydro ASA. Preliminary testing for the Girassol project of a portion of the subsea production system equipment, a project awarded to the Alto Mar Girassol contractors' joint venture (France's Bouygues Offshore SA and ETPM SA and Norway's Stolt Comex Seaway BV), was carried out in shallow waters in Norway off Bergen by Norwegian contractor Kongsberg Group, a depth far short of Girassol's actual water depth of 1,400 m.

The deepwater testing center project is banking on the exceptional 2,000-2,500 m water depths a few miles off Toulon in the French Mediterranean to attract oil companies to test their deepwater technologies under actual conditions. If the current studies obtain the necessary financing, then the project could be on stream in a matter of 2-3 years. Copros told OGJ that the cost of the project would not be known before the studies and their acceptance are completed.

He also noted that a number of oil companies would be interested in such deepwater testing area, citing the growing number of oil companies pursuing deepwater exploration, development, and production projects.

The economics of the project would be enhanced, Corpos said, by the use of stuctures previously installed off Toulon as part of a scientific project called Projet Antares, implemented by a Marseille research body, Ifremer, and European investors. This project aims to capture neutrino particles that come from "black holes" in outer space and can be found in ultradeep waters. Projet Antares has already installed a 2,400-m data cable connected to a deepwater positioning system off Toulon.

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