The global ultra-deepwater floater fleet has increased in number from less than 40 units 10 years ago to more than 160 today.
Virtually all of the 120+ drilling rigs added are dynamically positioned (DP), as conventionally moored vessels are largely bound to mid-water depths now (>3,000 ft.). And facilities and vessels beyond the drilling rig also use DP systems. Computerized DP systems have become essential components in the deepwater arena.
The U.S. Coast Guard is on the cusp of implementing the first federal regulations addressing DP/PM systems integrity- slated for 4Q15 or 1Q16- which crystallizes the central role these systems serve in the deepwater space.
Oilpro recently visited with Lloyd's Register Energy-Drilling's Principal DP/PM Marine Specialist, Kevin Comeau, to discuss the role that these systems play in the deepwater sector, as well as the nature of the impending federal regulations.
A Deepwater Personnel Dilemma
The vast majority of non-jackup units built in the last 10 years have dynamic positioning because operators have demanded the technology. Directly correlated to this trend is the increased demand for DP technical staff. This has posed a dilemma frequently voiced by Lloyd's Register Energy-Drilling's clients: the lack of DP/PM experience due to the high demand to fill offshore drilling positions for new builds in recent years.
This rig influx has significantly raised the need for specialized Dynamic Positioning and Power Management (PM) training. Operators and contractors alike are focusing on addressing the shortage of qualified personnel, and the sense of urgency is about to increase due to pending regulations coming to market by 2016.
Comeau noted that the new regulation requires "a certain amount of time before somebody is in charge of the watch or in charge of the DP system." The regulators want to be sure that personnel are familiar with the equipment on which they are working on that particular vessel.
This is an important point, as extensive experience on DP systems does not necessarily translate to knowledge of those systems on drilling units. Eric Flynn, Lloyd's Register Energy, Global Drilling Marketing Manager, notes: "You can have people show up, interview for a position to operate a DP system and their resume will represent 20 years of DP experience...but DP experience on what type of vessel? Not necessarily a rig- which is much different than any other type vessel...They may have only a few years of experience on a rig and everything else was on some other type of vessel."
Lloyd's Register Energy-Drilling observes that only about 20% of these positions have more than 2-3 years experience with drilling activities. Comeau said the problem is that over 10,000 certified operators have been introduced in the last 12 years. The result of this influx is that the average skill level has declined.
"From the records I've kept, I've seen in the last five years that the experience level of the operators has gone from an average of 4-6 years to an average of 0-1 years...So that's where the deficiency is. The demand is there; it has been met, but the problem is that the experience level has suffered because of it," Comeau said.
The Need For Optimum Training
To address the training deficit, Lloyd's Register Energy-Drilling developed and provides DP programs to meet the needs of all personnel involved in deepwater drilling. This training helps bridge the knowledge gap often found between support teams, rig management and system operators.
One of the integral parts of Lloyd's Register Energy-Drilling's DP assessments is a crew competency evaluation which determines whether there are any deficiencies in this area. "It may be just a lack of overall experience, or it may be with specific equipment, but it's designed to identify those deficiencies," Comeau said.
Once these shortcomings are identified, Lloyd's Register Energy-Drilling recommends to its clients that additional training be undertaken with either the overall DP system or specific components thereof, depending on the results of the assessment.
DP training is occurring both on-site and through remote training courses. "We have the ability to take these training courses to the yard...So if you're a drilling company having a new drillship or unit built, we can come to the yard while the rig is under construction and take the crew that's going to be operating a particular rig around the unit and familiarize them with the equipment they're going to be using," Comeau said.
Lloyd's Register Energy, Global Drilling Marketing Manager, Eric Flynn, said the company currently has three DP training courses that have been developed in response to the lack of experience. The remote, classroom courses are designed for 3 and 5 days, while the on site training will be slightly longer.
Comeau said Lloyd's Register Energy-Drilling designed the courses "specifically for drillships and drilling units and the hazards and unique situations that you’ll find there even if you’re a person with many years of DP experience... We can also customize the courses for any special requirements the client has."
One of the key advantages the onsite training and DP assurance assessments have is that most of the individuals that coordinate the training and assessments have "10, 15, 18 plus years of experience. Besides making recommendations you'll see us acting as mentors to the crew as well," Comeau said.
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