Release date: 14 September 2017
When 11 companies from six different countries, along with the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), joined together to launch a new phase in Azerbaijan's energy journey, the milestone was known as 'the contract of the century'.
Signed with the Government of Azerbaijan in September 1994, the agreement triggered some $33 billion worth of investment and gave the go-ahead for the development of three major oil fields in the Azerbaijan sector of the Caspian Sea: the Azeri, Chirag and Deepwater portion of the Gunashli (ACG) field.
Now, that contract is being extended out to 2049, in what BP's group chief executive Bob Dudley describes as ‘an historic signing which allows us to step into the next part of the ACG story, opening a new chapter in our partnership’.
As the ink dries on the contract for the new century, take a look at the platforms, operations, and the people responsible for producing 3.2 billion barrels of oil so far from beneath the Caspian waters, 120 kilometres east of the capital city, Baku.
There are two crew transfer boats that ferry a workforce of more than 1,000 people from the shore to the six production platforms (there are also two processing and utilities platforms in the network) in the ACG field. The marine fleet also includes eight supply vessels, three support vessels and three tug boats. Here, crew depart the Deepwater Gunashli complex, which has been in operation since 2008.
Those working and living on an oil and gas platform such as Deepwater Gunashli sometimes need to make their way around on a series of ladders that link one part of the structure to another. While personal protective clothing - including hard hats and steel-capped boots - is a prerequisite for these kind of activities, a head for heights does not go amiss either.
Supply vessels visit the platforms on a regular basis, bringing people, food, equipment - and anything necessary to keep operations moving. Hi-tech monitoring systems cover the 10,350 square-kilometre area, roughly the size of Jamaica, where BP operates in the Caspian to make sure that marine traffic is moving safely around the static infrastructure, raising the alarm for any unexplained movements in the vicinity.
Operations take place around the clock offshore. The Deepwater Gunashli complex consists of two bridge-linked platforms: there are drilling activities, utilities and accommodation quarters on one platform and processing, gas compression, water injection and more utilities on the other.
All the six ACG production platforms export the oil and gas, via an elaborate network of subsea pipelines, to Sangachal terminal situated on the coastline south of Baku.
Offices and meeting rooms on board a platform don't look so different from any operational facilities onshore. But, these colleagues are chatting on board the West Azeri platform that stands in water depths of about 120 metres. It started producing oil and gas in December 2005 from the western portion of the ACG field.
An operator on the helideck of the West Chirag platform talks on the radio to a colleague who is manoeuvring a crane. The 'frog' that carries people up to the platform from boats on the Caspian Sea below will be attached to this giant hook.
The West Chirag platform is the newest offshore facility in the ACG field. Production began there in January 2014, after it was designed to fill a critical gap in the field infrastructure between the existing Deepwater Gunashli and Chirag platforms. Total production from this platform averaged 87,000 barrels per day in the first half of 2017. Here, the team is bringing new equipment onto the drilling floor, ready to lower and install it into the well.
With the announcement of the extension of the production sharing agreement to 2049, BP, SOCAR and their co-venturers will carry out further engineering development work to evaluate the introduction of an extra production platform in the ACG area.