Time was that FPSOs were seen as the solution when an oil field was small, too small to justify a permanent facility. And as the ‘deepwater’ era began in the Gulf of Mexico, the talk was of spars and tension leg platforms (TLPs). But now, the FPSO is the dominant floating production facility, as evidenced by the most recent report from International Maritime Associates (IMA).

IMA reports that seventy-four production floaters currently are on order, 40 percent more than the backlog seen a year ago and more than double the mid-2009 backlog. These include:

• 49 FPSOs

• 6 production semi-submersibles

• 3 TLPs

• 4 spars

plus 3 floating liquefied natural gas vessels and 9 floating storage and regasification units.

Brazil dominates actual orders for production floaters, with 28 units, or 38 percent of the backlog, being constructed for use offshore Brazil.

These statistics demonstrate the clear dominance of FPSOs, if anything showing an increasing trend from those reported a couple of years ago by Christopher M. Barton, who reviewing 209 developments over a longer period, noted that FPSOs were the preferred choice in 61% of cases whereas spars and TLPs together were 20%, the balance being made up by production semi-submersibles.

AMI further reports that the number of floating production projects planned worldwide continues to grow, with 233 projects planned as of July 2012, up from 196 projects in July 2011 and the 122 projects planned five years ago. Brazil tops the list of nations with planned floating production projects at 55, followed by Southeast Asia with 46 projects and 44 planned projects in Africa, other major locations include: Gulf of Mexico – 24 projects; Northwest Europe – 17 projects; Australia – 14 projects; Mediterranean – 11 projects; Southwest Asia/India – 9 projects.

IMA notes that while the number of planned floating production projects continues to grow, not all of the projects will materialize as actual orders as some discoveries prove non-commercial to develop or others are nominated as tiebacks or joint developments.

What is the reason for this ‘FPSO dominance’? As far as I can tell, it is not a matter of technology – all the technologies are basically proven – but a matter of economics. However, rather than a default ‘go to’ FPSOs, I suggest fledgling developers should read in full the report by Christopher M. Barton, which is a great primer on ‘getting your development right’!