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SMU Report: Permitting delays & new regs stifling offshore drilling

Rig workers, like Robert Cornett, right, pause while mopping the decks on the Hercules 251. (Photo: Smiley N. Pool, Houston Chronicle)

by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

The offshore drilling industry is still rebounding from a five-month moratorium and new regulations after the 2010 Gulf oil spill, with consumers paying the price at the pump, according to a new report being released today.

The findings buck the conventional wisdom about a recent resurgence in offshore drilling that has caused a spike in demand for workers and a run on rigs to drill new wells.

Drilling contractors, including Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc., Noble Corp., and Rowan Cos., say they are seeing strong demand for their rigs. Energy analysts predict 10 more will float into the Gulf this year. And the number of active offshore rigs in the United States was higher at the end of April 2012 than the average total in 2009, the year before the spill (the economic decline had driven down demand that year).

But according to the new analysis, conducted by the Southern Methodist University Cox Maguire Energy Institute, high rig counts, the numbers of federal permits to drill new wells and other positive stats mask problems that could mean suppressed oil and gas production for years to come.

The study was commissioned by the Gulf Economic Survival Team, which has been lobbying for swifter permitting of offshore projects.

Read more: Fuel Fix » SMU Report: Permitting delays & new regs stifling offshore drilling.

Diamond Offshore Orders New Drillship in South Korea

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Diamond Offshore Drilling, Inc. yesterday announced that a subsidiary, Diamond Offshore Drilling Limited, has entered into a turnkey contract with Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Ltd. for construction of a new ultra-deepwater drillship with delivery scheduled in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Total cost, including commissioning, spares and project management, but excluding capitalized interest, is expected to be approximately $655 million.

The new drillship, to be named Ocean BlackLion, will be of the same design as Diamond Offshore’s three units currently on order with Hyundai. Design specifications include dynamic-positioning, dual activity capability, a maximum hook-load capacity of 1,250 tons, and operating capability at water depths up to 12,000 feet, though initially outfitted for operation at 10,000 feet. The unit will also feature two seven-ram blowout preventer (“BOP”) stacks, with the second available for use as a spare.

Diamond Offshore has elected to equip its previously announced drillships now under construction with an additional seven-ram BOP to improve rig reliability. The cost to add a second BOP is approximately $34 million, bringing the average total price for each of the previously announced drillships to approximately $640 million.

Diamond Offshore also announced today that it has completed the sale of four jack-up drilling rigs in two separate transactions. The Ocean Heritage was sold for $45 million in cash, and the cold stacked mat-supported rigs Ocean Champion, Ocean Crusader, and Ocean Drake were together sold for $10 million in cash; all four units were held for sale in the Company’s first-quarter financial results.

“We are principally a floater company, and during 2012 we have sold five jack-up rigs for a total of $95 million, which is being reinvested in our fleet,” said Larry Dickerson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Offshore. “We believe this new drillship along with our four additional units under construction—the Ocean BlackHawk, Ocean BlackHornet, Ocean BlackRhino and Ocean Onyx—will be profitably employed in the deep and ultra-deepwater markets.”

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USA: Hercules Offshore Secures Contract for Newly Bought Rig

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Hercules Offshore, Inc. announced yesterday the execution of a definitive agreement to acquire the offshore drilling rig Ocean Columbia from Diamond Offshore Drilling, Inc.

The purchase price is $40 million in cash. Ocean Columbia is a LeTourneau Class 82 SD-C jack-up drilling rig registered and flagged in the Marshall Islands. Subject to customary closing conditions, the Company expects the acquisition to close in May 2012.

“Hercules approached us with an offer to acquire the Ocean Columbia, and we found the terms to be compelling,” said Larry Dickerson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Offshore. “We are principally a floater company, and this transaction will further augment our funds for potential investments in deepwater and ultra-deepwater assets.”

Saudi Aramco contract

Hercules Offshore also announced that it has entered into a three-year drilling contract with Saudi Aramco for the use of the Ocean Columbia. Over this three-year period, the Company expects to generate total revenues of $160.0 million, including a lump-sum mobilization fee, assuming a utilization rate of 98% for the rig. Under the drilling contract, Saudi Aramco has the option to extend the term for an additional one-year period. Prior to commencing work under the contract, the Company expects to spend approximately $45.0 million for repairs, upgrades and other contract specific refurbishments to the rig and to mobilize the rig from the Gulf of Mexico to the Middle East. The Company expects the rig to commence work under the contract in November 2012.

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