INSPECTION, repair and maintenance (IRM) is a cornerstone of offshore oil&gas industry operations; the more mature the province the greater that requirement becomes, perhaps no more so than in the North Sea.
Drill down into the components of the IRM market to purely inspection and you find a relentlessly busy subset of the industry, but one where there are relatively few companies that make it their core business.
Fugro-Rovtech of Aberdeen is a lead player in this regard. The company has dedicated tonnage at its disposal, can call on other vessels as required, works with a large stable of inspection-class ROVs and has a highly experienced team.
Business line manager Gordon Kennedy has been involved in inspection since he first started out in the North Sea back in 1987, eventually coming into the Fugro Group via its acquisition of Rovtech in 2006.
“At that time, Fugro, though involved in inspection, wasn’t really focused on it,” he says.
“However, they decided there was considerable value in having an independent business line, which I head up.
“It’s OPEX-driven and therefore not really subject to the vagaries of the oil price. As infrastructure gets older, more and more inspections are required. This has the benefit in that, when times get tough for the industry, as they have been recently, Fugro-Rovtech remains buoyant and continues to grow.”
Although it supports the majors as required, the company specialises in supporting the independents that have, since Talisman Energy’s debut in 1996, become a major feature of the North Sea and collectively account for a considerable proportion of output.
In many cases, they are operating with first and second-generation platforms, subsea production and pipeline infrastructure, which requires considerable caring for.
“When it comes to operations, all oil companies are under an obligation to keep their infrastructure in good order, even more so as their assets mature,” says Kennedy.
“And yet most companies involved in IRM don’t actually focus on inspection like we do. They dabble around the margins and use it as a vessel time-filler when they have no better revenue-earning projects ongoing.
“In contrast, Fugro has invested in it heavily, and Fugro-Rovtech is wholly focused.”
It is for this reason, for example, that the dedicated inspection vessel, Skandi Olympia, is perhaps the most modern in the world. She was commissioned in January this year and is on long-term charter to Fugro-Rovtech.
Kennedy: “However, she’s more an evolution than revolution for us because we had an earlier and successful vessel, the Highland Eagle, which we had for five years working on pipeline and subsea structures inspection, plus some repair and maintenance duties … but mostly inspection.
“We have other vessels in the fleet that also get involved in inspection and therefore come under my wing as required. They include the Skandi Carla and Skandi Inspector.”
Skandi Olympia is among the most advanced offshore support vessels afloat; she also has one of the smallest carbon footprints, which aspect is becoming increasingly important to discerning clients. She carries one of Fugro-Rovtech’s new FCV 300 work-class ROVs, plus a pair of Seaeye Tiger inspection vehicles.
“We don’t want to change the offering too much because it was so successful previously. However, we have upgraded and certainly improved the data-collection processes.”
A valuable feature of the Skandi Olympia is that she is capable of supporting structural inspections of platforms, hence the twin-eyeball ROVs.
Turning to the Rovtech stable, Kennedy says people sometimes overlook the fact that the company has 24 inspection-class ROVs – probably the largest such fleet working out of one office anywhere. And it continues to grow, with more units likely to join that stable next year.
Having so many inspection-class ROVs is a huge strength as it enables Fugro-Rovtech to provide platform-based inspection services.
“This is very cost-efficient for the oil companies as there is no vessel mobilisation involved,” says Kennedy.
“We do a lot of that, including for the majors.In terms of the actual number of inspections carried out, we do more with the independent ROVs than those aboard vessels.”
They are not just confined to the North Sea as the company is also active in the Mediterranean and off West Africa – all supported out of Aberdeen.
Kennedy: “Because we have genuinely made this a core activity line, we’ve become very good at it. Some people think this is an easy business to be in, but it’s not.
“You need good, well trained, dedicated people who want to do this kind of work, and you need to work with proper inspection-class vehicles, not work-class vehicles.
“Additionally, we have a department dedicated solely to handing the data collected … producing the deliverables for our clients.”