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Advance under the sea

Forty years ago the P-1 was built, the first moveable Brazilian oil drilling rig

Platform still in Rio, in 1968, ready to move to the northeast of Brazil

Petrobras image bankPlatform still in Rio, in 1968, ready to move to the northeast of BrazilPetrobras image bank

A 25-day sea voyage, with many accidents, snapped cables, broken parts and lost screws and nuts, had engineers fearing for the structure of the first moveable Brazilian drilling platform to extract oil from the sea-bed, which was constructed in Brazil 40 years ago. Named the Petrobras-I (P-1), it was moved by three naval tugs from Rio de Janeiro to Maceió (AL), where it underwent repair and adjustments and made several unsuccessful attempts to position itself in the unstable local terrain. As a consequence, it was authorized to move to the south coast of Aracaju (SE). In 1969, in the shallow coastal waters off Sergipe, 80 meters deep, the P-1 first drilled and confirmed the existence of the first oil field on the Brazilian continental shelf, Guaricema, which is still producing today and has good reserves of light oil and gas.

Before this period Petrobras used to rent platforms from the French and North Americans to operate offshore, but in 1966 the company’s Board of Directors decided to build their own oil drilling platform. The objective was not only to reduce expenditure in a strong currency and save foreign exchange, but also to train and qualify people, develop Brazilian industry, depend less on foreign technicians and acquire know-how to advance both in the exploration of shallow waters (up to 150 meters) and also in deep waters (starting at 700 meters) and super-deep (over 2000 meters).

P-1 under construction...

Petrobras image bankP-1 under construction…Petrobras image bank

To take the plan forward a small, self-raising platform was planned and built which could be coupled to fixed production platforms by means of which wells could be drilled in shallow waters. It was delivered in July 1968 and was able to operate safely in water up to 60 meters deep and to drill sediment in wells up to 4000 meters (today platforms operate in water up to 2000 meters deep). The P-1 also had quarters for 40 people who worked in 15-day drilling shifts. It cost around US$ 30 million and was built by Mecânica Pesada, from Taubaté (SP), and at the Mauá shipyard in Niterói (RJ). “Part of the equipment used on the platform was imported, but the construction technology was 100% Brazilian”, says engineer José Marques Neto, who was then the general manager of the Northeast Production Region, which included Alagoas, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte and Ceará.

When the P-1 arrived in Alagoas and encountered problems Marques suggested to Petrobras that it should be moved to Sergipe, to try and confirm the exploratory drilling that had proved positive and that had been done by another unit hired from abroad in 1968. The suggestion was accepted and in 1969 the P-1 drilled five holes that led to the discovery of the Guaricema field. The platform was decommissioned as a prospecting unit after 26 years and started serving as a support for other platforms, in other words a floating hotel; today it is off Rio Grande do Norte. In all, the P-1 drilled 242,367 meters all over the continental platform and is one of those responsible for Brazil’s  success  in oil and gas exploration in the country’s territorial waters.

... and already operating off the coast of Sergipe in the 1970's

Petrobras image bank… and already operating off the coast of Sergipe in the 1970’sPetrobras image bank

Subsequently, José Marques became a director of Petrobras and managed to arrange for a further three platforms to be built in Brazil. “One of them stayed in the country and the others were sold to operate in India”, he said. The construction projects came to an end after these. “Prices and conditions were no longer competitive with those from abroad.” Last month, however, there was a U-turn. The P-51 was launched, the first semi-submersible platform built entirely in Brazil and programmed to operate in the Campos basin (RJ).