VESSEL REVIEW | DeepBlue Explorer – CNOOC’s newest drilling rig features intelligent operations management systems

VESSEL REVIEW | DeepBlue Explorer – CNOOC’s newest drilling rig features intelligent operations management systems


China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has begun operation of a new semi-submersible drilling platform optimised for deepwater oil and gas exploration work.

The aptly named DeepBlue Explorer was built by the China Merchants Group (CMG), through subsidiary China Merchants Heavy Industry (CMHI), over a span of four years. Development of the platform also involved cooperation from customer CNOOC, which had wanted a drilling rig employing technologies that guaranteed improved operating efficiency while also being capable of operating in harsh offshore environments.

The 109- by 74-metre rig was designed to be able to operate in water depths of as much as 1,000 metres while its maximum drilling depth is rated at around 9,144 metres. The array of drilling equipment is part of a complete package supplied by Huisman.

Photo: CMHI

The rig utilises a combination of conventional anchors, mooring lines, and dynamic positioning systems to guarantee improved station keeping even in areas that are often subject to significant wave heights, such as the offshore waters of the South China Sea. This means that, regardless of the hydrologic environment and climate conditions in its area of operations, the rig can automatically adapt to its surroundings. Both CNOOC and CMG have claimed that offshore deepwater drilling operations can be safely carried out even amidst the threat of typhoons and other extreme sea and weather disturbances.

CMG said Deep Blue Exploration incorporates a number of domestically-developed intelligent operating systems, making the drilling platform the first in the world to be granted DNV’s intelligent certification. One such system is configured to collect operations and maintenance data in real time, perform cloud-based processing, and carry out remote coordination and optimised decision-making. CNOOC added that the system can contribute to a 35 per cent increase in operating efficiency.

The rig is also equipped with an intelligent blowout preventer system that automatically closes onboard valves in the event of an emergency to mitigate the danger to the crew.

DeepBlue Explorer is being operated by CNOOC subsidiary China Oilfield Services (COSL). The rig began work on its first project in September 2021 by drilling an exploratory well at the mouth of the Pearl River Basin in the South China Sea. The site is located near the Liuhua 16-2 oil field some 230 kilometres southeast of Hong Kong in water depths of 370 metres. Immediately upon completion of this project, the rig will be deployed in the Natuna Sea off Indonesia to serve a 300-day drilling campaign for Medco Energi.

Photo: CMHI

For more news, opinion and vessel reviews as part of this month’s Offshore Week, click here.

DeepBlue Explorer
Type of vessel: Offshore drilling platform
Classification: DNV
Flag: China
Owner: China National Offshore Oil Corporation
Operator: China Oilfield Services
Builder: China Merchants Heavy Industry
Hull construction material: Steel
Superstructure construction material: Steel
Deck construction material: Steel
Length overall: 109 metres
Beam: 74 metres
Other electronics: Intelligent operations and maintenance system; intelligent blowout preventer system
Other deck equipment: Anchors; mooring lines
Other equipment installed: Huisman drilling equipment

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