Increased oil and gas project sanctioning and offshore wind’s inexorable growth make for a lucrative market for walk-to-work-capable vessels
At the Asian Offshore Support Journal Conference, held in Singapore from 17-18 September, Solstad Offshore’s Inger Louise Molver presented a macro-level overview of the drivers impacting the walk-to-work (W2W) market.
Ms Molver drew a broad split between two vessel types with W2W capabilities: service operation vessels, that tend to be designed primarily with offshore wind support in mind; and subsea vessels, many of which found work in supporting offshore wind projects during the downturn ,when opportunities to perform their traditional duties in the offshore oil and gas industry were limited.
Subsea vessel owners who have been able to weather the downturn could be rewarded with an increase in both utilisation and rates. During the downturn, vessel owners desperate to find work for their vessels were forced to accept the typically lower rates found in the offshore renewables space, said Ms Molver, but with increased subsea project commissioning, these charterers will have no choice but to match the comparatively higher rates found in the offshore oil and gas sector.
However, offshore wind remains a potentially lucrative area for OSV owners, Ms Molver said: “I think the offshore wind market in general has been underestimated for a long time. Installation of fields is going to provide a lot of opportunities for subsea vessels; it’s definitely a market on the up.”
“One trend that we’ve seen in offshore wind is that these fields are being planned further and further from shore and for the W2W market, this is particularly attractive,” observed Ms Molver. She added that “The further a field is located from shore, the bigger the argument to use a W2W vessel as opposed to a crew transfer vessel.”
April saw what could be the start of an interesting trend when Norwegian major Equinor, which has positioned itself as an energy company, rather than an oil company, chartered a PSV to provide W2W services for both offshore wind and oil and gas projects. Ms Molver described Equinor’s cross-sector charter as “a natural progression”, noting that in the North Sea the Norwegian state-owned company is proposing to install a dedicated floating wind field that will be used to generate electricity to service oil and gas platforms.
W2W brings value-add to Woodside
Australian OSV operator MMA Offshore’s executive general manager for operations Richard Furlong followed Ms Molver’s macro-level presentation with a micro-level case study of the kind of efficiencies W2W generated in a maintenance campaign for Woodside.
Use of a W2W gangway meant the turnaround campaign this year for offshore gas platform Pluto Alpha, with a work scope of more than 40 days, was achieved in just 27 days, Mr Furlong said.
MMA Offshore’s vessel MMA Pinnacle was used as an accommodation vessel and fitted with a Safeway motion-compensated gangway system capable of reaching the platform’s 29 m height.
Physical limitations on the platform meant it could only accommodate 16 workers per shift. However, by using an on-site vessel with a W2W arrangement, rather than helicopter or crew boat, the number of effective working hours per day was increased from roughly 160 to 432, shortening the amount of time the plant was required to be offline by 15 days. More than 1,200 safe personnel transfers and 40 gangway operations were completed during the work.
Mr Furlong noted that the 15-day saving achieved by MMA Offshore equates to three full tanker-loads of gas, resulting in a significant value-add for Woodside as the contractor.