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BP's Starlee Sykes eyes deepwater growth potential in the Gulf of Mexico and Canada

Release date:
19 October 2018
As BP boosts production in the Gulf of Mexico and seeks new exploration opportunities off the coast of Canada, regional president Starlee Sykes explains how deepwater developments underpin BP’s upstream strategy and the significant role oil and gas will continue to play in the changing energy mix
BP regional president for Gulf of Mexico and Canada, Starlee Sykes

What is the future for deepwater oil and gas and its role in the changing energy mix?

In BP’s latest Energy Outlook, even the most aggressive projections for the energy transition still have the world needing oil and gas for a long time. I think in the near term it’s not a conversation of ‘either-or,’ it’s a conversation of ‘and’. We need renewables – and we also need oil and gas.


The combined Gulf of Mexico and Canada regions have one of the most valuable and material positions in the BP portfolio, with enough discovered resources to underpin a healthy business here for decades to come.

Technicians looking at mulitple screens displaying detailed information in the control room of the Atlantis platform in the Gulf of Mexico, USA

How does the Gulf of Mexico support BP’s strategy of producing oil more efficiently and competitively?

Over the past four years, the Gulf of Mexico business has focused on improving safety while increasing the competitiveness of our current offshore hubs. We’re doing that by improving the exploration potential around our existing fields, getting the cost base down, and taking steps to improve the overall health of the business.


There’s a perception that deepwater oil is more expensive than some of the onshore oil and gas, and I think we’ve shown through our efforts in the past few years that deepwater competes. The reality is that not all deepwater is the same - and the deepwater oil and gas platforms that BP has are strong, economic businesses. While we’re reducing costs and improving our competitiveness, we’re also continuing to improve in process safety and personal safety. We’re focused on being a safe business that has learned from its past. We continue to value compliance and operating discipline.


What initiatives have enabled BP’s Gulf of Mexico business to become more competitive?

Our Mad Dog 2 project, which we expect to start up in 2021, is a good example. The estimated costs for that project started at $20 billion. Now, they’re under $9 billion.


Market deflation helped us to reduce costs, but the most significant factor was how we found simpler, more efficient ways of working. For Mad Dog 2, that meant that rather than build the largest spar (a type of floating platform) in the world, as originally planned, we decided to go back and see if we could replicate the Atlantis platform and have that work. With a few small changes, it does.  


The same ideas we’ve used on Mad Dog 2 apply to the rest of the region, too. We’re looking at becoming more efficient in the way that we work, without compromising at all on safety or quality.


Starlee Sykes: my BP journey


Starlee Sykes took the helm as BP’s regional president for the Gulf of Mexico and Canada in February 2018. She began her career as a subsea operations engineer before rising to leadership roles, including vice president of projects performance, vice president of developments for the Gulf of Mexico, and founder and director of BP’s global subsea hardware organization.


More recently, and in addition to leading a global portfolio of more than 30 major projects, Sykes was a key leader on two major Gulf of Mexico projects, including the redesign of the Mad Dog 2 platform and the Thunder Horse South Expansion project, which came online 11 months ahead of schedule and $150 million under budget. 


“The Gulf of Mexico has been on a journey,” Sykes says. “We’ve made huge improvements in the past few years around our safety performance, our competitiveness and our cost base. And, there’s a really long future ahead of us.”


Graphic showing statistics on our Gulf of Mexico operations

How are new technologies transforming the Gulf of Mexico business?

The biggest game-changer in the Gulf of Mexico, given the complexity of the resource base, is seismic imaging. In addition to ocean-bottom nodes and Full Waveform Inversion, we’ve just designed and built a new ultra-low-frequency seismic technology called Wolfspar. We’re excited about how that’s going to improve our ability to see through heavy salt formations in the gulf and in reservoirs around the world.


We’re also using drones and other robots for offshore inspections, which means that people are having to spend less time on vessels, and we’re still getting a better understanding of the quality of our facilities. If we can inspect more efficiently, then we can use those assets for a longer period of time.


Another exciting programme we’re piloting on the Atlantis platform is Plant Operations Advisor, which is a digital technology developed with GE that provides process safety surveillance, production monitoring and enhanced plant reliability. These kinds of predictive analytical techniques will make a huge difference.

The biggest game-changer


Advancing seismic imaging


BP developed a new proprietary seismic processing algorithm to enhance a technique called Full Waveform Inversion, which lets teams see through complex layers of salt to the reservoirs below.


Used with seismic data acquired at the ocean bottom, this technique has helped to unlock more than 200 million barrels of additional resources in the Atlantis field in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.


BP now is deploying this technique to fields elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in Azerbaijan, Angola, and Trinidad and Tobago.


You are also responsible for BP’s Upstream business in Canada. What are some of the opportunities you see there in the future?

BP’s Canada Upstream business is made up of three parts. We are currently looking at near-term exploration plays - the first one being an exploratory well off the coast of Nova Scotia, called Aspy D-11, which was spud in April. We’re doing an exciting play test there, so we’ll see how it turns out. Once we complete these tests, we’ll evaluate them to see if they could turn into a material business for BP.

We also have interests in the Canadian oil sands through partnerships operated by Devon and Husky. And finally, we have potential opportunities in the far north, such as the Beaufort Sea, which are much more long term.

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