Current and Future Offshore Activities in Canada

Hnatiuk, J. (Gulf Canada Resources Inc.)


Summary. The development of innovative exploratory drilling systems for Canada's harsh Arctic offshore areas over the past decade and future activity in these areas, including possible production concepts, are discussed. The results can be applied in other Arctic areas of the world, including offshore Alaska. This operating experience will advance drilling technology and serve as a basis for the design of Arctic offshore production and transportation systems. Unique technology has been developed and successfully used in the discovery of major accumulations of hydrocarbons. Continued technological advances are anticipated to have widespread Arctic applications in both exploratory and production operations.


Drilling has been successfully conducted in most of Canada's offshore areas despite the extremely harsh environmental conditions. During the past decade, technology has advanced very significantly particularly in the Beaufort Sea and Canadian Arctic Islands. particularly in the Beaufort Sea and Canadian Arctic Islands. Operating experience gained during the exploratory drilling phase is being used in the conceptual design of production systems. Undoubtedly, there will also be an evolution of technology during the development and production phases as the vast frontier reserves are exploited. Canada's offshore frontier areas typically have high costs and lengthy time spans between discovery and production. These factors present major engineering challenges for the design of safe, cost-effective, and timely exploratory and development systems. Confidence in the reservoir extent and predicted performance may permit large-scale development projects, while performance may permit large-scale development projects, while uncertainties may result in a phased approach where possible. The latter is attractive because earlier revenue is generated. Giant discoveries in the Beaufort Sea may not be essential to trigger development and a transportation system, because a combination of several pools may justify limited tankers or a small-diameter pipeline. Similarly, in such areas as the Grand Banks, phased pipeline. Similarly, in such areas as the Grand Banks, phased development with floating production platforms may be feasible. Artificial islands, first started in 1972, are still being constructed but with improved designs and equipment. A step forward has been the use of subsea berms on which concrete or steel segmented caissons have been placed. Integrated-type steel caissons have also been adapted for placement on subsea berms. One is one-half of a crude oil tanker and a second is a purpose-built steel caisson first used in 1984. Four drillships were converted and/or strengthened for Arctic service in the Beaufort Sea, and three have drilled since 1976. The second-generation floating vessel for the area is the Kulluk conical drilling unit, which began drilling in 1983 and has extended the operating season. In the Canadian Arctic Islands, drilling off artificially thickened ice in water depths exceeding 1,200 ft [365 ml has proceeded successfully since it began in 1973. On Canada's east coast, use of dynamically positioned vessels and iceberg towing have permitted seasonal drilling in positioned vessels and iceberg towing have permitted seasonal drilling in ice-infested waters. Production of oil from Hibernia and gas from Venture will be possible early in the next decade. Production of oil from the possible early in the next decade. Production of oil from the Beaufort Sea is also possible in the early 1990's and from the Canadian Arctic Islands in about the mid-1990's. Systems for such production will be discussed. production will be discussed. The focus will continue to be on exploratory drilling and delineation drilling for several years in most areas. Conceptual and preliminary engineering design for development will accelerate as new discoveries are made and others delineated. Wildcat exploratory drilling will also continue to satisfy exploration agreements and will tap the vast potential reserves of Canada's offshore areas.

Geologic Potential

The hydrocarbon potential of Canada's offshore frontiers has been recognized for several decades. Permits to explore for oil and natural gas were granted in several areas during the 1960's, when offshore drilling began on the east coast. Drilling in the Mackenzie delta and Canadian Arctic Islands (Fig. 1) in the 1960's was a forerunner to drilling offshore in those regions in the early 1970's. Encouraging hydrocarbon reservoirs have been discovered in all frontier areas except the west coast and Hudson Bay. The search has been primarily for oil in an effort to achieve self-sufficiency, security of supply, and economic returns. Significant reserves of nonassociated natural gas have also been discovered offshore and may be produced in conjunction with solution gas from offshore oil production and with nearby land-based gas reserves when a transportation system is available and demand and economic conditions warrant such production. Estimates of the potential recoverable oil and gas reserves for the frontier areas have recently been published by the Canadian federal government's Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) and are shown in Table 1.


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