Brazil Builds $127 Billion "Offshore City" to Harvest Oil in the Deep Sea


Photo credit: Strocchi via Flickr/CC BY

Want to get a feel for how crazy the post-peak oil fossil fuels industry is getting? Here's as good an example as any: Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras is about to embark on an unprecedented oil-gathering mission. It's about to attempt to extract 30 billion barrels of oil from reserves that are locked in deepwater sub-salt fields at least 60 miles off the coast and up to five miles underwater. In order to get at the incredibly hard-to-get oily good stuff, Brazil is spending an estimated $226 billion -- and $127 billion will be spent on exploration and production alone.

The product of that venture is already taking shape: a veritable floating "offshore city" has sprung up over 100 kilometers (62 miles) off the coast of Brazil, and it will lead the effort to drill into the deep sea sub-salt. One oil worker told GE's Txchnologist all about these 'floating frontier towns': ""It is really impressive what is out here, 100km off the shore," said Willem Van Beek, a Dutch "mud engineer" who drills the wells, from an oil platform at Espiríto Santos Basin recently. "It's like a complete offshore city. You see thousands and thousands of lights."

These cities float about a mile above the sea floor, and they're far enough from the coast that it's out of range of any helicopter. The oil lies another 1-4 miles below the sea floor, and extracting the stuff from sub-salt formations is an extremely difficult, largely unprecedented process. Here's the Txchnologist:

drillers face huge challenges, Norman Gall (Executive Director of the Fernand Braudel Institute of World Economy in São Paulo, and a sub-salt expert) wrote earlier this year in Brazil's Estado de São Paulo newspaper. "The salt beds are unstable and can engulf the drill bit and collapse the casing that encloses the drill pipe."

Underneath the salt, it doesn't get any easier, according to Van Beek, the Dutch mud engineer. The formations are unstable and the oil is generally mixed with sand, he says. "The spaces in between the sand grains hold the oil. So when you start producing a well, you use sand control, which means you suck in the oil and leave the sand out." But at depths like these, the water is close to freezing. "The temperature changes the viscosity of the drilling fluid," says Van Beek.

And remember, the nearest oil rig in this floating city would be twice as far offshore as the Deepwater Horizon was -- making it that much more difficult to address a spill.

So all in all, I fully endorse this foolproof plan! I mean, what could go wrong?


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More on Offshore Drilling
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Tags: Brazil | Oil

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