Since the early 1970s, FPSOs (floating production, storage and offloading vessels) have been integral to the offshore oil and gas industry. Their emergence has revolutionised the production of oil and gas, giving operators a flexible and cost-effective solution. In our conversation with Brunel specialist John, who currently serves as Topside Delivery Manager for an FPSO construction project in Asia, we gained insights into his role and the remarkable evolution of these floating production facilities.
Topside Delivery Manager
John grew up in London, UK, but has been living in Singapore for 30 years. “Life here can get hectic sometimes,” he tells us “But I prefer that to being out in the countryside in the UK, which can be a little dull at times.”
Hi, John. You’ve been working in the oil and gas industry for over three decades. How did you get started?
I never had any intention of entering the oil and gas industry. I sort of fell into it. With a degree in mechanical engineering, my initial focus was geared towards pursuing a career in the aerospace sector. Growing up in western London, I was surrounded by numerous aerospace companies associated with the defence industry. However, as fate would have it, by the time I graduated in 1982, the British industrial landscape was facing significant challenges, resulting in the bankruptcy of several establishments. Consequently, I found myself employed by an industrial gas company. It wasn't until 1990 that I embarked on my first venture into the offshore domain, working on my first project in the North Sea.
In 1993 you moved to Singapore. What prompted your move to Southeast Asia?
I was born in Asia, specifically in what is now known as Sabah, a state in Malaysia. And in 1993, I was employed by a British consultancy that maintained an office in Singapore, so it was an opportunity to go back. Initially, my intention was to fulfil a four-month contract. But as time progressed, unforeseen opportunities unfolded, leading me to extend my stay.
And when did you first come across Brunel?
I actually got introduced to Brunel very early on – not as an employer but as a supplier. At the time, I was leading a project for one of Brunel's clients and required the expertise of six piping specialists. Brunel promptly provided me with the skilled professionals I needed. This encounter took place in 2003, marking the beginning of my collaboration with Brunel throughout the years. However, it wasn't until 2021 that I was approached and asked to join Brunel as a specialist myself. I am currently involved in my second project with the company.
Could you tell us more about your role as Topside Delivery Manager and your current project?
I am currently collaborating with one of Brunel's clients, a prominent player in the offshore industry, specifically in the realm of floating, production, storage and offloading (FPSO) units. These vessels, as the name suggests, play a vital role in the production, storage and offloading of oil and gas from offshore fields. The project I am currently involved in focuses on building an FPSO that will ultimately be deployed in Brazil. In my role, I am responsible for ensuring the successful delivery of topside modules and structures for the FPSO. These topside components encompass a range of equipment, systems and facilities above the waterline. As part of my responsibilities, I oversee various aspects, including project management, fabrication, construction, installation, commissioning, safety and stakeholder management. Currently, a significant portion of my time is dedicated to conducting numerous meetings aimed at securing essential contracts with subcontractors. Additionally, in the upcoming weeks, there is the possibility that I will need to travel overseas to meet our engineering subcontractors and potentially visit one of the fabrication yards.
What is an FPSO?
An FPSO, which stands for floating, production, storage and offloading, is a vessel used in the oil and gas industry to produce, store and offload oil and gas from underwater oil fields. The FPSO has large tanks to store the oil and gas it produces. It also has equipment on board to process the oil and gas by separating them from other substances. Once the oil and gas have been processed and are ready, they can be transferred to other ships for transport or directly offloaded to shore.
What are the advantages of an FPSO as opposed to a traditional offshore platform?
There are numerous advantages of using an FPSO over traditional offshore platforms. Firstly, FPSOs have the versatility to operate in both shallow and deepwater fields, making them suitable for deployment in remote areas. Moreover, they can be customised for specific production needs and offer a cost-effective solution. Lastly, FPSOs tend to be more environmentally friendly than offshore platforms. Being floating structures, they have a smaller environmental footprint and minimise disturbances to marine ecosystems during installation and decommissioning processes.
With your extensive industry experience, could you give us an overview of the evolution of offshore floating solutions?
Before the emergence of FPSOs, oil and gas extraction was limited to shallow fields and the transportation was typically done through subsea pipelines. Early FPSOs were essentially modified oil tankers with additional process equipment on their decks, facilitating the separation of oil, water and gas. These initial models were mainly deployed in shallow waters with depths from 50 to 100 metres, targeting marginal fields where investing in long-term infrastructure such as fixed platforms was not economically viable. However, as offshore operations expanded into deeper waters, fixed platforms became impractical and FPSOs became an indispensable solution. Now, offshore fields are often located in extremely deep waters. For instance, our FPSO project will operate at water depths of 2,900 metres, pushing technological boundaries. The evolution of FPSOs has thus seen them progress from simple solutions for marginal fields to complex systems designed for extensive fields. Today, there are two types of FPSOs: converted FPSOs, which involve retrofitting existing vessels, and new builds specifically designed and constructed from scratch for oil fields. When I embarked on my first FPSO project in 1997, the scale was significantly smaller compared to the ones currently being developed. Not only have FPSOs increased in size over the years, but they have also become considerably more expensive.