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Experience transferred

Written by  Karen Boman Sunday, 01 October 2017 00:00

Karen Boman chats with industry veteran Tony Duncan about his plans at Magma Global and experiences selling operators on new technology.

Tony Duncan

Tony Duncan has faced many challenges in his career in the oil and gas industry, including convincing operators to take a chance on new technology. He was previously tasked with setting up CSO Aker Maritime’s subsea business in the Gulf of Mexico, which included the pipelay and construction vessel Deep Blue and later a spool base at Mobile, Alabama. He now brings this experience to a new role, vice president of Magma Global’s US operations.

CSO Aker Maritime was once the Houston subsidiary of Coflexip Stena Offshore Group, which later merged with Technip in 2001 – which now owns and operates Deep Blue, which is still in operation today. When Deep Blue entered the market in 2001, it was the first of its kind, with J-lay and reel-lay capabilities suitable for deepwater projects in the Gulf of Mexico and West Africa.

The ship was built by Hyundai Mipo Dockyard near Ulsan, South Korea. It measures 206.5m-long, has a gross tonnage of 33,791-tonne, and is able to work in water depths up to 3000m (9842ft)

“While clients ‘needed’ the asset to support the developments, you had to spend a lot of time explaining the technical systems on the vessel,” Duncan says. “When it came to work on projects such as Shell’s Na Kika (7600ft water depth), many of the offshore operations had never been attempted before so the engineers needed to develop new processes and in some cases technology to allow the successful completion of complex projects.”

Duncan’s key takeaway from his experience with Deep Blue is to deliver or exceed promises. “When a new vessel or technology starts to be introduced, it has to deliver, especially in the first few applications,” Duncan says.

New applications

Deep Blue leaving the spoolbase prior to mobilizing to Na Kika. Photo from Technip.

The bulk of Magma Global’s current applications are offshore topsides. But, the firm sees significant uptake of its product in subsea, particularly on the back of its recent announcement that Magma Global is the first Thermoplastic Composite Pipe manufacturer to qualify its product for subsea applications to DNV GL’s Recommended Practice F119.

Magma Global’s composite pipe utilizes materials that have been around for a while, but represents as new application of this material. Convincing operators to try new technologies is difficult, even more so in today’s lower oil price environment.

“People like certainty and managing their risk profile,” Duncan says of this reticence. But, he believes Magma Global is changing people’s minds.

While senior-level executives want to support new technologies, working-level employees who are more risk adverse are the ones that need convincing. This is a trend Duncan sees across the industry, as project managers’ performances are measured in terms of capital costs and safety. It’s especially true in the deepwater sector as oil prices are making investment difficult, he says.

“You need to tackle the challenge (of selling new technology) in a number of ways,” Duncan explains. “You need to demonstrate on a technical, commercial and risk front that the client will be better off.”

Spending time and effort with the engineering design houses that are working on pre-FEEDs and FEEDs and the contractors, is also critical. Each of these companies are key influencers in the recommendation of using new technologies and each of them have different drivers, the key to success to understand these drivers.

Deep Blue working alongside Shell’s Na Kika platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo from Technip.

Lessons learned

Duncan’s time in the merchant navy convinced him he didn’t want a career where he was stuck in an office doing the same thing every day. This desire – and the growth opportunities he expected in the subsea industry in the mid-1980s – led him to a career in oil and gas.

“The challenges have been significant, but those challenges have brought opportunities,” Duncan says. He sees more challenges in store for the offshore oil and gas industry, which he believes will rebound, but not to the same intensity as previously seen in 2013-14.

The biggest challenge will be the lack of experienced people, he says. “During my visits to operators/contractors, it is very noticeable that the resources have been cut dramatically to the extent that there is very little scope to accommodate an increase in workload.”

Historically, when prices stabilize and operators start to progress final investment decisions, we have seen in the past “rush” from operators to be first in line, that is for larger projects that require specific technology/assets we have seen a race to secure this type of resource in order to secure the best schedule possible this tends to lead a mini boom for suppliers before we then drop back into steady state.

“The challenge for deepwater projects is that there is a finite resource pool available,” he says. Once the industry returns to a steadier state supply/demand position, there will be in a number of areas (vessels) of oversupply, which the industry needs to address.

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