OTC 2022: Industry group tackles safety and risk management issues of aging FPSO fleet

Kurt Abraham, Editor-in-Chief, World Oil 5/5/2022

Concerned about the growing safety risk posed by corrosion and other structural integrity issues associated with the global floating production fleet, American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) pulled together an industry working group 18 months ago. Since then, the group has been examining how to address these concerns about the aging fleet. On Tuesday afternoon at OTC, the ABS-led group delivered a progress report at the firm’s stand on the exhibition floor.

“The world’s FPSO fleet is getting older,” said Matt Tremblay, ABS Vice President for Global Offshore. “This includes column-stabilized units, ship-type units, spars and TLPs. And 135 of 230 floating production vessels, or 60%, are classed by ABS.” He noted that 25% of the ship-shape fleet is over 40 years old, and 75% of that group are over 20 years old.

Furthermore, explained Tremblay, 55 FPSOs in the global fleet are reaching the end of their design lives in the next five years, and another five have life extension in place. With 19 more FPSOs currently being evaluated for life extension, a number of safety issues have become valid concerns.

Listing the risks. Noting that “a lot of these units are converted tankers,” Adam Moilanen, Vice President and Chief Surveyor at ABS, said the number-one risk is potential corrosion and the structural integrity issues that go with it. But there’s far more to think about. “The second risk is mooring—these mooring systems are crucial to vessel safety,” continued Moilanen. “Operations is another risk, as well as life extension. Plus, there is the competency of the crews. We have to make sure their competencies are up to [spec]. Then there is data—what can we do with it? Then, there is the regulatory environment. These vessels have to comply with a variety of regulations in a number of different countries. And one more risk is contractual obligations. We aim to put improved controls in place.”

Working group participants. To examine these risks and find solutions, ABS brought together industry players Chevron, ExxonMobil, Petrobras, Shell, MODEC and SBM, along with the Bahamas Maritime Authority, the Marshall Islands government and the U.S. Coast Guard. The group has had two overriding goals from the outset: 1) Identify critical risks posed to the offshore industry by an aging global FPSO fleet; and 2) Determine the steps to mitigate safety and environmental risks posed by these aging FPSOs.

One thing that the participants have focused on is that aging units require more maintenance effort to maintain in Class, and this maintenance needs to increase with age to reduce downtime. Furthermore, across the industry, it is widely accepted that increases in life extensions put a greater burden on aging asset maintenance issues.

Accomplishments to date. Tremblay outlined the groups accomplishments during the 18 months they have been working together. One area is making improvements to Class. ABS has developed and refined its Rules, with a significant number of changes applicable to FPSOs, both for existing units and for new facilities. These Rule changes are intended to address many of the risks related to aging FPSOs from both a design and a maintenance perspective. They include changes to new construction and conversion rules for FPSOs; changes to the commissioning Rules for FPSOs; and changes to the Rules for inspection and maintenance for existing FPSOs.

In addition, the working group has initiated five joint industry projects (JIPs). For instance, one JIP has a mandate to assess the use of management software; applications of photogrammetry and 3D Lidar laser scanning; and the role of artificial intelligence in corrosion detection and analysis. Another JIP is looking at composite material repairs for offshore structures and including such aspects as life extension of wire rope mooring systems that have existed for 20 years and are approaching the end of their design lives.

The ABS working group on FPSOs will work on these topics and more, as it continues to formulate solutions to the aging fleet problem. Regular updates on its progress will be provided.

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