February 27, 2009
Deepwater Exploration Block D6
It was 12 noon and I was thinking petroleum crude and lean gas in million metric British thermal units, hardly expecting to encounter white-skinned sunbathers— especially in the middle of the Bay of Bengal—where the waves can be as high as six metres.
Now before you imagine bikinis, let me clarify that these were men sunbathing on the helipad of a ship. The ship is in the Bay of Bengal to build the last parts of the platform that will collect the gas out of the first few wells of the D6 block in the Krishna-Godavari Basin of Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) and send it landwards. “If you came here earlier in the day, you could have seen them jogging,” says one of the Indian employees of RIL on the platform.
Life can be very different when one is trying to extract natural resources out of the sea that are buried more than two km below the surface. And yet somehow, they manage to serve samosas and farsan to their guests!
RIL is on the verge of producing both gas and petroleum crude from the D6 block in the Krishna-Godavari Basin off the Andhra Pradesh coast. This is a good time to fly in the journos and the company does so in its private plane—a 16-seater Bombardier Global Express in which we took off at 7.30 a.m. from Mumbai. The aircraft has the names of all the children of Mukesh and Anil Ambani inscribed on it. At 8.40 a.m. we land at Rajahmundry, a town 390 km east of Hyderabad on the banks of the Godavari in the east Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. From there, we fly in helicopters to Gadimoga, about 35 km from the district headquarters, Kakinada. The company has built an onshore terminal here.
The faster it can jack up its production, the faster will it be able to satisfy the mandatory buyers like fertiliser and power units and do something more creative with the gas.
From this terminal we take off in choppers at around 11 a.m., first to a floating production storage and offloading platform or the FPSO, which handles the petroleum crude. We take turns wearing the headset that allows one passenger to talk to the pilot. But it is useful when Reliance’s Vice President for Field Operations Prem Verma wears the headset and, with a little help from the pilot, points out the rigs working in the area; some belong to the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation and others to ONGC.
The FPSO is a ship that has been converted into a platform; this allows it to offload crude into oil tankers that can berth alongside. The water is a kilometre deep here. Production had started six months ago—until, in December, a blast in one of the pipes stalled operations.
RIL hopes to restart it in March. The Greek Captain of the ship, Nikolaos Messinis, welcomes us aboard and treats us with pakoras and something I, for one, looked forward to more eagerly—prawns! Messinis spends four weeks at sea and then goes home to Greece for four weeks. He is an employee of Aker Borgestad Operations, the Norwegian company that manages the ship, which is owned by another group company of Aker Kavaerner.
An RIL employee on board, Dinesh Sharma, tells us how when the weather turns worse, a glass of water placed on a table moves around. Another hand on deck, Mukesh Kumar, recollects how the ship rolls sideways by five degrees on each side in bad weather; right now it’s rolling by a degree, and I am fine—just about. These men do 14-day shifts on the FPSO. They work for 14 days straight and then go home for another 14.
At 11.45 a.m. we board the chopper from the FPSO to move to the control and riser platform, where gas is collected from different wells and sent to the landing at the onshore terminal. It is here that we encounter the sunbathers on the helipad of the ship Rem Forza, that is anchored alongside the platform. The water is only 98 metres deep here and the really deep waters start after this point. “In certain weather conditions, you can actually see a line separating the green waters of the shallow part of the sea and the blue of the deeper parts,” an RIL employee tells us.
We learn a few terms pertaining to the exploration of oil and gas. Guess what is a Christmas tree in this context? It is a set of valves, spools and fittings connected to the top of a well to direct and control the flow of oil or gas. Now, what is a manifold? It is a pipe fitting with several lateral outlets that connect several oil wells together.
The most important part of the day is, when at 2.45 p.m., the media gets to meet P.M.S. Prasad, President & CEO (Petroleum), RIL. He explains to us a plan where the company has decided to expand its production from 40 million cubic metres of gas a day in April 2009 to 80 million cubic metres of gas a day by December 2009. That is a doubling of production that the company had earlier planned to do in 17 months. Now that process will be hastened. The government has already given the company a list of 13 fertiliser companies that will be the first buyers of gas from the KG Basin D6 block.
The FPSO is a ship that has been converted into a platform; this allows it to offload crude into oil tankers that can berth alongside it. The water is a kilometre deep here.
Next in line: 18 power companies. What Prasad doesn’t tell us is that this policy of the government leaves almost no marketing leeway in the hands of the company and the faster it can jack up its production, the faster will it be able to satisfy the mandatory buyers like fertiliser and power units and do something more creative with the gas. In fact, RIL itself will be a major customer of its own gas. But that’s only if it is allowed to—by kinder weather, by the government and by the courts.