China launches world’s largest oil exploration sea platform
The 42,000-tonne Bluewhale 1 is bigger, faster and can drill deeper than its rivals in disputed waters
China has put into service what it claims is the world’s largest and deepest-operating offshore oil exploration platform, the Bluewhale I, the state broadcaster reported on Saturday.
The rig has a total deck area about the size of a soccer field with a sophisticated drilling system that can reach the seabed at a depth of 3,658 metres and bore a further 15,240 metres into the earth’s crust, according to China Central Television.
The Bluewhale I is designed specifically for the South China Sea, where untapped oil reserves can lay buried 3,000 metres and more below sea level.
The rig cost more than US$700 million, or about the price of two Airbus A380 jumbo jets. It weighs 42,000 tonnes and is as high above water as a 37-storey building, CCTV said.
The vessel uses state-of-the-art technology from leading domestic and overseas suppliers such as Germany’s Siemens. Its operating speed is about a third faster than other Chinese drilling vessels, according to the manufacturer, CIMC Raffles in Yantai, Shandong.
While Bluewhale 1 is an exploration platform, the world’s largest production oil rig is Russia’s Sakhalin-1 offshore platform, which weights 200,000 tonnes.
Bluewhale 1’s owner, CNPC, said a major concern was environmental accidents, in particular oil spills. The vessel had undergone extensive tests before commercial operations began last month.
China’s deployment of large drilling rigs in disputed waters has raised concerns among its neighbours, mainly Japan and Vietnam. In 2014, Chinese and Vietnamese marine forces had a serious standoff when the Haiyang Shiyou 981 platform drilled near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, where the two countries have rival claims.