As an engineer who for the past 12 years has been largely associated with the conception, design and development of floating production technology, I am fortunate enough to have played an active role in the construction, installation and commissioning of an actual floating production system. During each one of those 12 years I was assured, and indeed assured others, that floating production was the "offshore technology of tomorrow", the near panacea that would eventually dispute the position of, if not wholly displace, fixed-platform offshore development technology, leading to lower development costs and earlier production We are all now aware that this has not in fact happened, the deployment of such systems has been limited and tentative, usually in clement-weather areas and often justified by some unique combination of circumstances, and floating production is still the "technology of tomorrow" rather than of today It is now therefore appropriate that the question should be asked whether floating production will ever in fact represent a major competitor to fixed platforms in depths at which these are feasible, or whether it must await its day in field developments in greater depths. For my part, I am still convinced that in the longer term, perhaps in the Western Approaches, should any large hydrocarbon resources be identified there, or in the deep waters west of Norway, the floating route may well prove the best, if not the only, solution. In the near term however, in the shallower waters of the North Sea, which will represent the bread and butter of our industry in the United Kingdom for the next decade and more, the situation is much more problematical, and it is therefore on the potential for floating production in this area that I would like to concentrate
Oil company investment in the North Sea to date has involved some 144 separate platform developments, of which only four have employed anything other than seabed-supported platforms. It is notable, however, that one of the earliest developments, dating from 1975, was based on a floating platform and that the field in question, Hamilton Brothers' Argyll, is still in production. As a technology then, the floating route is not new to the North Sea-why then, we must ask, has it been consistently rejected for the vast majority of new developments? Could the reasons for this rejection still be valid, or have recent advances made floating systems more attractive? Do the nature and size of the fields remaining to be developed in the North Sea favour the floating route? Let me sketch the background to these questions and, in the process, pose some more.
The purpose of any oilfield technology is the most economic production and evacuation of a given prospect's reserves The choice of technology for a given offshore development will depend on a range of considerations particular to the prospect in question.