The beautiful story of the pelican
Without the commitment and financial investment of the PSC and the commitment of a handful of men, the "Pelican" project would never have seen the light of day. With André Brun, head of research, Gilbert Fort, the project manager in the Labrador Sea, Jacques Gebaert, the driller and many others, we have spent many beautiful years, often sacrificing our personal lives. From 1972 to 1976, I spent almost as many days at sea as on land with a record 186 days between Greenland and Newfoundland. So what were we doing there so far from ours in this hostile sea riddled with icebergs? We were looking for oil aboard an experimental boat called dynamically positioned: the "Pelican". Sensing that there were oil reserves beyond the continental shelf, we were then living the first exploration campaigns in deep offshore. Because it is impossible to operate in these difficult climatic conditions (iceberg, swell, current) with a heavy classic platform and not very mobile, it was necessary to design an independent unit endowed with a good cruising speed and freed from all external assistance to anchor.
This technology took shape in the 1960s with the "Térébel", an experimental driller belonging to the FIP (French Institute of Petroleum). This building is the first to be equipped with a dynamic positioning device and to use a flexo-logging system. On the strength of this experience, it was decided to move to an industrial scale: the "Pelican" program was launched in the early 1970s. It was in Rotterdam at the Chantiers Navals I.H.C that it was built. Owned by Somaser (French Oil Company, Foramer and Doris), this extraordinary vessel will be operational in 1972. The Pelican is the first dynamically positioned drilling boat to carry out full-scale test campaigns. It was also the year when I came back abruptly from Algeria where I worked from 1963 to 1972 in full independence. There, I notably participated in the development of a very innovative offshore pipeline between Mostaganem and Cartagena in Spain. But this is another story...
Back in Paris at the Mirabeau Tower at CFP headquarters, I am lucky that André Brun, in charge of research, entrusted me with the "Pelican" project. At 32, I was propelled responsible for dynamic anchoring, automatic drilling and project manager within Doris, a subsidiary of the group. I then found myself in a position where I was not entitled to error at the risk of seriously compromising the rest of my career. After testing in the Mediterranean and the Iroise Sea, the "Pelican" set sail for the Labrador Sea. I will spend four years of my life there where I will discover a new drilling technique.
Why the Pelican?
When drilling at sea, the drill rods must remain in the axis of the well. In rough seas it is difficult to maintain this alignment. The dynamically positioned boat allows this by constantly adjusting its position depending on the wind, currents and swell to stay vertical to the well and keep the rotation table a few meters around. To achieve this, the "Pelican" was equipped with an ingenious device. It was first fitted with large tanks located on the sides of its hull. These “detuning tanks” were used to break the resonance of the ship with the swell. The boat also had an electronic and acoustic system to listen to ultrasound. Computers - these are the beginnings of information technology in the upstream industry - matched this information in real time with that linked to the position of the ship. Finally, we could adjust the position of this juggernaut of around 100,000 tonnes to the nearest meter thanks to its five lateral propellers in addition to the two longitudinal propellers!
As for drilling, it was fully automated so as not to expose men to harsh climatic conditions and unnecessary risks. In the event of an emergency, it was possible to cut the stem and release the boat. With all this equipment, the Pelican was the first ship capable of drilling - particularly in the Arctic - to a drilling depth of 6,000 meters.
It's in this context that I lived years of great intensity between land and sea, far from mine. 50 years later, I admit to take pride in having contributed to the success of this first campaign. I have many strong memories like this:
- Life on board where a hundred professionals from the sea and oil drilling coexisted. The sailors taught us navigation at sea while we trained them in dynamic positioning. Commander Patroni and his lieutenant Tanguy played this role wonderfully.
- To drill in complicated climatic conditions to test the resistance of our equipment. One day, we stayed connected to the well despite 17-meter troughs!
- To operate the drilling in automatic mode and the dynamic positioning of the vessel simultaneously. This is no small thing for those who know the complexity of drilling.
- Of an oil discovery. Suddenly, the "muddy" (the sludge is sieved and analyzed by chromatographs) shout "alert we are there". This Hibernia tablecloth will be used years later
- abruptly interrupted vacation. When I had just returned to my Provencal house, Gilbert Fort made me return in 24 hours on the "Pelican". A helicopter landed in my garden to take me to Le Bourget where I boarded a Mystère 20 in the direction of Newfoundland. Within minutes, I was able to unlock a computer that had moved to the "Security" position.
During the winter months, the Pelican drilled in the Iroise Sea, Mozambique and Angola. So many campaigns in which I have participated. A few months later, I was given another "marine" mission. It consisted of searching for abandoned wellheads in the seabed off the coast of Vitoria in Campos, Brazil with an oceanographic boat, the "Astragalus", and acoustically marking this oil field. A mission that I was able to carry out thanks to my knowledge acquired on the Pelican. Namely the technology of acoustic deviation measurement and the techniques of navigation at sea.