Petrobras stabilizes damaged P-36 platform off Brazil

Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) said Monday that recovery operations had stabilized the crippled P-36 platform and it was optimistic the platform would not sink. However, the structure is badly damaged. A task force is studying substitution of sister structure P-40 on the field.


By an OGJ Online Correspondent


RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar. 19
� Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) said Monday that recovery operations had stabilized the crippled P-36 platform and it was optimistic the platform would not sink.

However, the structure is badly damaged. A task force is studying substitution of sister structure P-40 on the field.

Petrobras said three massive blasts rocked the structure on Thursday, killing 10 people. Until Saturday, the 40-story tall platform was listing at a 25� angle and was slowly sinking.

The world's biggest platform of its kind, a converted semisubmersible rig, the P-36 was producing in more than 1,300 m of water in the giant Roncador field in the Campos basin, 80 miles off Rio de Janeiro. (OGJ, Sep. 20, 1999, p. 33). Petrobras said there had been a gas leak that escaped into the column where the blasts took place, but it had no explanation as to the cause.

Bad weather from an approaching cold front could hamper efforts to salvage the platform. Waves were rising to 1.8 m on Monday from 1.5 m on Sunday.

If the platform sank, 1.5 million l. of crude oil and diesel in underwater pipelines and onboard tanks could be spilled into the ocean.

Carlos Tadeu Fraga, Petrobras's southern E&P chief, said he did not expect the 21 wellheads to break, which would cause a more serious environmental disaster.

Petrobras had dispatched oil spill recovery equipment to the site but said there had been no spills.

The platform had been producing 84,000 b/d and 1.3 million cu m/d of gas.

The Dutch salvage company Smit Tak BV flew in 50 tons of equipment from Europe over the weekend, including powerful pumps.

More than 100 Petrobras, Dutch, and US salvage personnel injected 4,100 tons of nitrogen at the rate of 200 l./hour into two of the flooded compartments on the P-36 platform to discharge about 15% of the estimated 7 million l. of seawater. Petrobras said, �The results are encouraging. The listing of the platform is now 2 less in the last few hours and (it) has stopped sinking.�

Only small work parties of three to five people were aboard the platform at any one time. They took measures to prevent more water from entering the flooded compartments.

Petrobras said the initial examination of the platform found �the whole column affected by the accident and the compartments underneath are completely under water. It was therefore concluded that there is no chance of finding any survivors.� Two bodies had been recovered. Eight people were missing and presumed dead.

Petrobras said 21 support vessels and a semisubmersible platform, Petrobras P-23, were on location to help in the operations. The P-23 was serving as the operations base for the recovery effort.

Carlos Eduardo Bellot, Petrobras' superintendent in Campos basin, said he did not know how much Petrobras had spent in the salvage operation but the costs were covered by $125 million of insurance for salvage operations and replacement of damaged equipment. If the platform sank it would be insured for $500 million.

Meanwhile, the Oil Workers Union of northern Rio de Janeiro state (which includes Campos basin) halted any type of petroleum production or refining beginning at midnight on Monday (local time), as long as any repair operations are going on. Campos basin has 42 production platforms, 30 drilling rigs, and 6,300 oil workers.

Wagner Victer, Rio de Janeiro's state energy secretary and a former Petrobras engineer, questioned the construction of the P-36 platform. "These platforms, built abroad present a risk. There are platforms built in Spain which took 1 year to begin operating, after being delivered, due to construction problems."

The Petrobras Association of Engineers (AEPET) claimed "there was a fundamental error in the P-36 project." According to Argemiro Pertence, an AEPET director, the natural gas flare was in the middle of the platform when it should have been installed far from the main deck.

Pertence, who is a Petrobras engineer with 25 years of offshore experience, said that caused the temperature at the base of the platform to be as high as 80� C. Carlos Tadeu, Petrobras' E&P manager for the southeastern region, discounted those statements. "There was no mistake in the P-36 project. We monitored all of Maritima's work.� Maritima Construcoes Navai is the Brazilian company that revamped the platform.

A Petrobras task force is studying ways to speed up the entry of a new platform, the P-40�originally destined for use in the Marlim Sul field�to substitute for the P-36. The task force has not yet determined exactly how quickly P-40 can be brought into operation.

The P-40 production platform is anchored at Guanabara bay in Rio de Janeiro and is awaiting licensing from Ibama, the federal environmental authority, to operate in the giant Marlim Sul field�also in Campos basin, offshore Rio de Janeiro state.

The P-40 was projected to operate at water depths of 850-2,400 m and has the capacity to produce 150,000 b/d of liquids and 6 million cu m/day of natural gas. A plan is likely to be announced within the next few days, according to Petrobras sources.

The National Federation of Oil Workers has said 81 oil workers died while working on Petrobras projects over the last 3 years, but only 15 were Petrobras employees.

In January, a gas leak on Platform P-37 killed two people, and in February a fire at the Namorado 1 platform injured four.

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