Three Petrobras tenders for chartering support ships are causing a stir in the market for Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) in Brazil. The bidding involves 10 ships, which implies a total of 20 ROVs. This means that over the next year there will be an increase of approximately 15% in the number of systems currently mobilized in Brazil – there are approximately 120 in operation today.

In addition to an emergency auction to contract one or more ROV support vessels (RSVs) within the next year and a half, there is also a competition underway for the acquisition of eight RSVs for periods varying between four and eight years, with the requirement that the ROVs be able to operate in environments where the ocean currents reach a velocity of 2.5 knots.

By the date this edition of Brasil Energy went to print, only one contract (for US$ 60 million) had been signed — with iTech 7, owned by Subsea 7, which will supply the ROVs used by Farstad Shipping’s RSV Far Saga.

Currents

The Norwegian company will also be the supplier of the equipment for an Anchor Handling Tug Supply boat (AHTS) that is being acquired by Petrobras. In this case, the oil company requires that the ROVs be able to operate in water conditions with currents of up to 4 knots, which leads to the belief that the AHTS will be used for exploratory activities along the Equatorial Margin – the new frontier region with blocks that were auctioned this year and where ocean floor currents are stronger than those seen in the Campos and Santos Basins.

This specification, together with the minimum traction requirement (Bollard Pull) of 1,200 kgf, is regarded as a challenge by the industry. Currently only Subsea 7’s Centurion SP ROV meets these requirements.

Subsea 7’s director of Business Development, Paulo César Martins, explained that when increasing the power potential of the ROV to be able to handle stronger currents, the tendency is to also increase its size and draft, which could limit the equipment’s mobility.

“This is a proportion that has to be discovered through a very well-designed project,” said Martins.

Currently, there are ROVs with power plants of up to 250 hp, but their traction capacity varies between 800 and 900 bp. Because of this, there is already a discussion with Petrobras about the capacity of the vehicles to operate under these conditions.

In the opinion of the regional manager for the Americas for FMC, Matt Whitworth, Petrobras should push for new technical qualification processes certifying more advanced ROVs.

“It is not enough to say that the vehicle must be able to maintain a straight line course while subject to currents of up to 4 knots if the ROV is rectangular and subject to currents coming from different directions,” said Whitworth.

Cash

Experts are questioning the ability of the ROVs to operate under these conditions when equipped with a tooling skid, a type of box coupled to the robots where tools for the operation can be stored.

Petrobras says the market is still adapting itself to the Equatorial Margin, adding that at the beginning of 2014 it will be organizing an internal seminar to discuss new technologies and operating systems for ROVs.

In spite of the difficulties, the challenges of the new offshore frontier have aroused the interest of manufacturers.

“We are willing to produce ROVs for stronger currents, but we need some guidance from the market,” said the manager for ROVs of Oceaneering for Brazil, Wayne Betts.

Space

According to Petrobras, the trend is for the market to demand ROVs that are more highly automated and customized — and that occupy less space on a ship’s deck. Also, among future demands will be high-definition cameras and satellite communication hookups.

It is expected the oil companies will opt for a dual package format, which consists of the utilization of an ROV for intervention (working-class), and a smaller ROV for observation to provide support for drilling operations.

In addition to the competitions that are underway, tenders for contract renewals for the operation of ROVs and occasional acquisitions for support for new drill rigs are also creating new market activity. At the moment there is a tender out for the supply of an ROV for the Bassdrill Beta semi-tender, owned by Atlântica Tender Drilling, which will be arriving in Brazil in December.

Recently, Oceaneering supplied two subsea units to the Ocean Rig Milos that will also be operating in Brazil. For its part, DOF Subsea signed contracts in November to supply five ROVs for ships that will be chartered by Petrobras.

There is still considerable expectation with regard to Sete Brasil’s 28 drill rigs currently under construction in Brazil, in addition to future demands associated with the exploratory blocks acquired this year: Libra is the outstanding example.

“There is a market out there,” noted the executive director and country manager of Oceaneering, Francesco Santoro.

Contract

The last large contract for the supply and operation of ROVs for Petrobras was signed with Subsea 7, in 2010, involving 30 units at an estimated cost of US$ 400 million.

In 2012, the oil company held a competition for the acquisition and operation of 24 units. Petrobras later canceled the tender, which was won by RRC of the Bravante group. Sources in the industry speculated that Petrobras might have been reluctant to sign such a large contract with a company that had never operated ROVs.

The contract is to renew part of the oil company’s ROV fleet and to mobilize some new drill rigs that will be arriving in Brazil. The market believes Petrobras might issue a new tender of similar scope and size at some future moment.

“The tendency at the present time is to believe that Petrobras will renew some contracts that theoretically would have been taken care of with the canceled competition,” said another executive.

The Bravante group had not responded to requests by the Brasil Energy reporting staff for comment at the time this issue was put to bed.

– 30 –