What is deep water?

Energy fuels economic development. It keeps our lives heated, cooled, bright and moving. And, as the world’s population increases, more people will seek a better quality of life. This will require more and varied supplies of energy.

Beneath the world’s oceans – in waters ranging from a few hundred to several thousand metres deep – lie vast supplies of oil and natural gas with the potential to boost economic growth and play a vital role in the future energy mix. There could be around 270 billion barrels of recoverable oil alone in deep water worldwide, according to the International Energy Agency.

Deep water
Appomattox, a deep-water oil and gas project, is Shell’s latest floating platform in the Gulf of Mexico

Unlocking energy from deep water

Shell has been exploring for and extracting oil and gas from beneath deep waters for 40 years, delivering many major projects around the world in countries including Brazil, the USA, Nigeria, and Malaysia.

Shell has helped develop many of the deep-water technologies and processes that energy companies use today. It has helped set new designs standards for the world’s tallest platforms. And it has pioneered safe operations at the deepest wells around the world. Shell was also the first major offshore operator to apply round-the-clock, real-time monitoring of drilling operations from shore.

In the Gulf of Mexico lies Shell’s Stones project. Operating in around 2,900 metres (9,500 feet) of water, Stones is a floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) facility which produces oil and gas from reservoirs nearly 30,000 feet below sea level.

Thousands of kilometres away off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia, lies Shell’s Gumusut-Kakap platform, a project that produces oil from 19 deep-water wells in seas that are 1,200 metres (3,900 feet) deep. Tropical storms are common in this region. To anchor the platform securely, engineers used a remote-controlled robot to attach it to four giant mooring lines. These lines secure the platform against waves of up to eight metres (25 feet) and winds that can gust at hundreds of kilometres an hour.

Shell’s projects are designed to keep costs low without comprising on safety. On the Appomattox development in the Gulf of Mexico, Shell has achieved more than 25% cost savings since making the final investment decision. On the Kaikias project in the same region, Shell was able to reduce costs by around 30% by simplifying the well design and re-using existing oil and gas processing equipment. On the Vito project, also in the Gulf of Mexico, Shell reduced cost estimates by more than 70% from the original concept, also due to a simplified design.

Safety first

Safety is the top priority across Shell’s operations. The company’s deep-water wells must meet rigorous design and construction standards and use sensors to monitor deep-water wells in real time. This allows engineers and geologists in onshore operations centres around the world to identify any potential risks and respond immediately.

Shell’s engineers also undergo several years’ additional training in deep-water exploration and recovery. The company runs programmes globally to ensure high standards of health and safety, emergency response procedures and technical operations.

Bonga North west
90% of staff working on the Bonga North West project are from Nigeria

Sharing benefits

Shell’s deep-water operations also boost economic growth and benefit local communities. At the Bonga North West project in Nigeria, 90% of people working on it are Nigerian. All five major engineering and construction contracts for the project were awarded to companies locally-headquartered or invested in the country. The five companies completed the project ahead of schedule, with no reported injuries to staff during 4.16 million hours of work.

In Malaysia, Shell runs a university scholarship programme which provides funding to high-achieving students. It has so far helped over 2,000 young Malaysians. Shell also supports a training programme with local authorities in the country to qualify much-needed welders for the oil and gas industry.

Shell has been a deep-water pioneer in the Gulf of Mexico for over four decades and works closely with local communities in the region. Every year the company invests in over 25 local non-profit organisations that work to improve educational opportunities, protect the local environment and celebrate the unique culture of the region. In 2017 in New Orleans Shell began a collaboration with educational organisation Core Element and the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team. Together they created a new programme to help 2,000 economically disadvantaged students get inspired and excited about STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths.

Deep water and the environment

As well as supporting local communities, Shell’s deep-water projects are carefully designed to limit any impact on the surrounding environment.

As part of the Brazilian Parque das Conchas project, Shell has funded research into humpback whales. The company supported a Brazilian non-profit environmental conservation organisation, Scientific Institute Aqualie, to set up an electronic tagging programme that has revealed details about the whales’ migration routes.

Marine life is a vital source of income for fishermen in Malaysia. Shell’s Malikai project is located in an area surrounded by yellow-fin tuna and Shell and the Sabah Department of Fisheries, a governmental body, are working on a project to assist local fisherman by setting up floating devices that attract fish to alternative areas away from the platform.


Deep-water milestones

Featured stories

Returning to deep water

Producing energy resources deep beneath the world’s oceans has been going on for 40 years. Most of the deep-water pioneers have retired. Now some of them are back in demand.

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