China launches world’s biggest offshore oil exploration platform

China has launched what it claims is the world’s biggest and deepest offshore oil exploration platform.

Called Bluewhale 1 – the drilling rig is specifically designed to operate in the South China Sea, where oil reserves are thought to lie some 3,000 metres or more below sea level.

oil exploration platform Bluewhale 1Bluewhale 1 is the world’s biggest offshore oil exploration platform and is designed to operate in the South China Sea. Photo: CIMC Raffles

The oil exploration platform was built at the shipyard of CIMC Raffles Offshore Limited in the port city of Yantai in eastern China’s Shandong province. It is now owned by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).

CIMC Raffles describe Bluewhale 1 as “the most advanced ultra-deep-water semisubmersible drilling rig,” and say it is the first turnkey project in Chinese offshore ultra deepwater field.

At a weight of 42,000 tonnes, Bluewhale 1 may be the world’s biggest oil exploration platform, but it is not as large as Sakhalin-1, the world’s biggest offshore oil and gas production platform, which weighs 200,000 tonnes and is situated off the northeast coast of Sakhalin Island in the far east of Russia.

According to the manufacturer, Bluewhale 1’s design is based on the Frigstad D90, originally developed by Frigstad Engineering, and it can operate in “all global water areas” up to a depth of up to 3,658 meters and can drill a further 15,240 meters into the seabed.

Also, compared with a traditional drilling rig, the new oil exploration platform is 30 percent more efficient and uses 10 percent less fuel.

The Frigstad connection

Originally, the project was commissioned from Frigstad Deepwater Ltd, which was jointly owned by the Frigstad Group and CIMC, and the oil exploration platform was called Frigstad Shekou.

However, following a restructuring program, Frigstad Group sold its shares in Frigstad Deepwater Ltd to CIMC, and the rig’s name was changed to Bluewhale 1.

Another oil exploration platform based on the Frigstad D90, Bluewhale 2 (formerly known as Frigstad Kristiansand), is scheduled for completion later in 2017.

Harald Frigstad, chairman and founder of the Frigstad Group, said they “strongly believe that offshore oil and gas will still play a very important role in the global energy supply for a long time” and they plan to continue to play a role in the industry – both as rig designers and drilling contractors.

Further evidence of China’s growing assertiveness in disputed waters?

Deployment of the new rigs indicates China’s continued commitment to expand its large-scale drilling operations in the South China Sea.

This is bound to raise concerns among its neighbours – including Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines – who will see it as further evidence of China’s growing assertiveness in the East and South China Seas, an area that is rich in fossil fuels and through which flows trillions of dollars of global trade.

In 2014, there was a serious maritime confrontation between China and Vietnam after China’s Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HYSY 981) platform drilled near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. The islands are controlled by China but also claimed by Vietnam.

The diplomatic dispute appears to be turning into an annual ritual, as HYSY 981 keeps returning to the area.

Video – animation of a working Frigstad D90 rig

The following animation shows how a Frigstad D90 drilling rig – on which China’s new oil exploration platform is based – operates.