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Beacon Offshore Energy and its partners are proceeding with development of the Shenandoah project in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico’s Wilcox Formation. The deepwater project is one of a small handful of projects set to develop the potential of HP/HT environments.

Transocean’s Deepwater Atlas drillship has been contracted for Shenandoah and will initially use dual BOPs rated to 15,000 psi for drilling. Once the initial drilling program is concluded, one of the BOPs on the ship will be switched out for a 20,000-psi BOP for the completion activities. 

BOP for offshore drilling rig
(Source: James Jones Jr/

The adoption of 20,000-psi technology represents a step forward for the deepwater industry as it targets more challenging formations and encounters higher pressures. The arrival of 20,000-psi drillships onto the market in the coming years means that Shenandoah can now move forward, more than a decade after oil was first discovered at the site by a former operator.

The Beacon team believed, at the time of sanctioning its Shenandoah project, that the technology was ready, having been developed over the past 10 years.

“While we are awaiting delivery of some of the equipment, we sanctioned the project with confidence that the industry is bringing multiple solutions to market at the perfect time for development of Shenandoah,” a Beacon spokesperson told E&P.

Beacon noted that along with the ability to complete 20,000-psi wells, it will also rely on the subsea production and well intervention systems to perform at pressures above 15,000 psi, and those system elements are currently approved for use, or in the independent third-party (I3P) verification process, which is required for regulatory approval.  

Transocean’s Deepwater Atlas and its other 20,000-psi-capable drillship, Deepwater Titan—both of which are under construction—will comprise its eighth generation of drillships. 

“Beyond their ability to drill and complete high-pressure wells, the Deepwater Atlas and the Deepwater Titan will also incorporate other state-of-the-art technology and features, including a gross hoisting capacity of 3.4 million pounds, efficient completions setup with dedicated well test and offloading areas, and a hybrid power drill floor that flattens peak loads on the engines and reduces fuel consumption,” Roddie Mackenzie, Transocean’s senior vice president of marketing, innovation and industry relations, told E&P.

New frontiers

Shenandoah is not the only HP/HT project moving forward in the Gulf. Chevron’s Anchor is also under development and aiming for first oil around the same time, in 2024, while TotalEnergies’ North Platte is thought to be close to a final investment decision. These developments follow Royal Dutch Shell’s Appomattox, which became the first HP/HT project to enter production in the deepwater Gulf in 2019.

Beacon is confident that delivery of these projects will open the door to other deepwater HP/HT developments.

“Safe and successful execution of these initial 20K developments will unlock many other opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico,” the Beacon spokesperson said. “The Shenandoah project will provide an infrastructure gateway in the western Walker Ridge area, which has the potential to improve the economics of previously discovered marginal volumes in the vicinity and provide a template and hub for other Wilcox standalone developments in an area that will likely require HP/HT technology.”

Meanwhile, Transocean anticipates other 20,000-psi opportunities, and indeed the Deepwater Titan is contracted to begin working for Chevron next year.

“The outlook for these rigs and the 20K market remains very positive,” Transocean's Mackenzie said. “In addition to the potential for follow-on work with Beacon following the initial firm term on the Atlas, the 20K landscape extends to prospective opportunities with Shell, Equinor, bp and incremental 20K prospects with Chevron as well. We are encouraged that the commencement of the first 20K projects will serve as a catalyst to green-light future prospects, as significant cost barriers have been eliminated with the introduction of the technology required to safely drill and complete these high-pressure wells.”

Beacon agrees that the future is positive for HP/HT developments. And given the Wilcox alone has already been proven to hold billions of barrels of recoverable oil, the future prize could be considerable.