There is no getting away from the fact that it has been and continues to be a very tough time for everyone in the oil and gas industry, not just in the UK, but across the globe. But two of Darlington's major subsea players are turning the tide with new orders and contracts.
Subsea Innovation is supplying energy projects in Azerbaijan and Qatar.
The business will make 33 J-Tube plugs for BP’s Shah Deniz gas project, which will stop pipes attached to rigs decaying. It is also testing clamps, some of which are the largest in the world at 38 inches in diameter, ahead of delivery to operator RasGas later this year.
The company previously designed and made pipeline connectors for RasGas, which bosses say will help it continue operations, including a field capable of extracting 37 million tonnes of gas every year.
Subsea Innovation is also carrying out greater maintenance work on launch and recovery systems (LARS), which deploy underwater remotely operated vehicles that lay power cables, to cover companies’ reduced spending on new equipment, brought about by the sunken oil price.
The firm has just completed two LARS refurbishments, has one in its workshop and expects another two to follow shortly. Martin Moon, managing director, said the business, which makes products to fit clients’ unique briefs, said it was operating well against a difficult backdrop of oil at $40 a barrel, confirming it is pushing to strengthen its order book for when the situation eases. He said: “There are green shoots of recovery in terms of activity and green shoots with the oil price, but it is going to be a difficult 12 months. “We have to come up with new products for the market; it is all about diversification and innovation and new ways of doing things. “We are doing a lot of bidding, probably more than we have ever done, which will position us for when orders are placed.”
DeepOcean, who have recently won new contracts worth £200m, said some are a direct result of their long-term charter of the Maersk Connector, an advanced cable installation vessel, which represents an investment of approximately £100 million. Owned by Maersk, the vessel will be used to install subsea array cables for an offshore wind farm off Belgium before laying subsea export cables for the world’s largest offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea.
It will then install a subsea interconnector cable between Belgium and the UK to boost the power supply to Britain to support the reduction in the cost of electricity. Significantly, the Maersk Connector is the only vessel with the ability to ground when fully loaded, allowing DeepOcean to install cables from the beach, and in shallow and deep waters. This key capability was developed between the vessel builder Damen and DeepOcean’s own engineering team.
The 138m-long vessel has docked at the A&P yard on the Tyne where it will be fitted with an advanced split capacity carousel produced by Parkburn Precision Handling Systems of Hamilton and Telford. Fabricated at the A&P facility, the carousel has an outer diameter of 27.3m and is 7.5m tall, and allows the vessel to carry 7,000 tonnes of cable. The installation of the carousel and associated equipment will be managed by DeepOcean and will take two months. It will then embark on its first project in Belgian waters and will have a crew of 90, including 70 of DeepOcean’s specialist offshore personnel.
DeepOcean has also contracted North East-based IHC to deliver an advanced cable plough for the vessel, which will be fitted later in the year at the Port of Blyth for projects in 2017. Designed in conjunction with DeepOcean, it will be the first offshore plough designed for all seabed operations, but specifically for handling large diameter power cables.
DeepOcean has also awarded contracts worth £20m to North East companies such as SMD and OSBIT Power in support of its offshore wind activities.
Pierre Boyde, commercial director, said: "We are extremely proud of the Maersk Connector, which demonstrates the benefits of close collaboration and innovative design and engineering. Its ability to lay cable from the shore to deep waters is a significant efficiency gain for offshore projects, which is a key consideration for the energy industry.
"It also proves the value of the UK supply chain and the quality of the businesses serving the international offshore sector. DeepOcean is always keen to use local suppliers who share our valves and can bring new ideas and efficiencies to our projects."
He added: "The investment in the Maersk Connector represents DeepOcean’s increasing presence in the offshore renewables and interconnector markets. Our continued growth in these sectors supports a programme of research and development to improve offshore operations, which includes establishing productive, long-term relationships with the supply chain."