The Age of Energy Transition
As the oil and gas industry recovers from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, we speak to David Lim and Jay Cotaya about the innovative new route for Exmar Offshore Company
Writer: Marcus Kääpä | Project Manager: David Knott
The past year has seen the stagnation or decline of entire industries across the globe. The travel industry, for example, saw many airlines suffer from 90 percent reductions in passengers, while many others took to switching their services to freight transport to bring back some of what they lost during lockdown periods.
The oil and gas industry has been no different. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global average of daily oil demand will be reduced to eight million barrels per day this year, a decline of roughly eight percent from last year.
Major oil consumers such as the aviation industry, that itself has been hit incredibly hard by the effects of the pandemic, have reduced their oil consumption drastically. This has led to oil production companies suffering a drawn-out decline of financial strength over the course of 2020.
According to David Lim (Managing Director) and Jay Cotaya (Sales Manager – Major Projects) of Exmar Offshore Company, the result of the pandemic has caused a huge drop for offshore drilling and related services.
“COVID-19 has resulted in global demand reduction, projects being re-evaluated or even cancelled, and has been extremely hard on an already challenged industry – one that was coming off years of efforts to reduce inefficiency and operate with lower margins,” Lim tells us.
Exmar is the US-based branch of the Belgian Exmar NV Group, operating under the wider company’s Infrastructure sector (with Shipping representing the other main division). Exmar Offshore is an engineering services and project development company, proud experts in the provision of a multitude of practices backed up by its broad and historical industry knowledge.
As opposed to the firm’s other branches (Exmar LNG, Exmar LPG, and other services) that focus largely on the shipping side of the wider company, Exmar Offshore specialises in the assembly, leasing, operation, and maintenance of company designed semisubmersible drilling and production platforms.
OPTI® – an industry standard-setter
The company has a long history of working in offshore. It was generally focused on industry floating solutions but specifically dealt with drilling and production, and in 2006 the firm took a bold move and built the OPTI-EX™ production submersible – the first Exmar OPTI® design to enter the industry.
“Exmar Offshore Company has a reputation for efficiency and in these times its practical and lower cost solutions receive the greatest attention,” Cotaya says. “The OPTI® production semisubmersible was conceived nearly 20 years ago as a standard, scalable and low-cost solution for deep-water production.”
The firm’s activities are historically grounded in naval architecture and structural engineering. On top of this, it houses decades of experience and knowledge in related fields such as production and marine systems. Seen as a reliable, dependable partner, it is this reputation which has kept the company buoyant in challenging times.
Indeed, Exmar’s OPTI® is a standout in the oil and gas industry. Conceived two decades ago, it is a proven and accepted deep water development solution – the semisubmersible hull design platform is revolutionary within a conservative industry that is relatively averse to change.
The OPTI® is formed of a hull and deck truss form that aids in the execution of offshore projects and leads to lower lifecycle costs. The OPTI® proprietary hull form and single deck truss features combine superior hydrodynamic performance with payload weight efficiency, ease of construction, simple integration, and rapid, flexible project execution.
This design achieves optimised motions by utilising a deeper draft and ringed pontoon design and has become something of a company hallmark.
“The OPTI® has become nearly synonymous with Exmar Offshore Company, and although its business includes significant non-OPTI® related engineering services, the OPTI® makes us particularly proud,” Lim says.
This design has given Exmar an edge over its competition in the industry. Through owning the design, the firm has the independence to work with any EPC contractor, shipyard, or operator under a license agreement. But the company is also forward thinking in its business approach.
“Its commitment to continual innovation and practical solutions has driven Exmar Offshore Company to develop and improve products with clear intent,” Cotaya adds.
While the OPTI® and its deployment is an in-house feature of Exmar, Lim and Cotaya acknowledge that the company would not be able to provision its whole service offering without the presence of a number of strategic partnerships with external companies. The professional relationships that the firm cultivates and maintains are both mutual and beneficial for both parties and the end customer.
“The company works closely with subsurface and subsea companies. It also works with topsides companies, typically selected by the operator,” Cotaya says. “For the execution of projects, we work closely with shipyards relying on the network and reputation of the Exmar Group which has extensive construction experience.
“For instance, we have had relationships with riser and mooring companies that have been instrumental in developing an optimised performance solution.”
Looking to the future
Just as partnerships are held in the highest regard, the individual efforts of the Exmar workforce drive the design, production, and services the company provides its varied customer base.
The firm prides itself on its workforce of employees from diverse backgrounds that collectively make up the drive behind high-performance service.
“Exmar is full of examples of technically innovative successes, whether it is FSRUs, FLNG, LPG fuelled LPG carriers or OPTIs®, and exciting projects attract creative people,” Cotaya says. “Keeping creative people motivated means giving them challenges and real responsibilities.
“It is not a large company among its peers, but it achieves great things, and each person is able to point to where they contributed to that success.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many obstacles in the way all industries approach the workplace, and Exmar is one firm that has risen to the challenge. The company promoted remote working for its employees and aided the transition to such an environment.
“Flexibility combined with a strong work ethic that was consistent whether at home or in the office helped us to succeed in these difficult times, and we believe that while the landscape is very different now,” Lim continues. “We believe we are better and stronger.”
Indeed, it was this kind of individual employee focus that has defined Lim’s own tenure at the company.
His career had veered towards law before he was presented with the opportunity to join Exmar. He had originally joined the firm to gain experience in shipping to later explore the avenues of becoming an admiralty lawyer. Starting in Exmar’s Hong Kong office in 1997, he began with the trading of pressurised LPG vehicles. The 2000s saw Lim’s career leap forward through the firm.
He was given the opportunity to move to Exmar’s headquarters in Antwerp in 2001, then to Houston to develop the company’s nascent LNG regasification business, and a few years after he was presented with yet another opportunity.
“In 2004 I was given the responsibility of taking Exmar Offshore Company from a technically strong design development company to a commercially profitable services and project development company,” Lim says.
Now, as Exmar continues to serve its customers, energy is starting to pick back up, and optimism remains the primary emotion for Lim.
“While deep-water exploration and development was paused in the early days of the pandemic, we are starting to see activity returning after months of re-evaluation,” he says. “Projects have been delayed but have not been cancelled.”
The firm plans to deliver the installation of the King’s Quay FPS for Murphy Oil and its partners, as well as the sanctioning of another project in 2021. On top of this, OPTI® studies are ongoing, the aim being to move these forward for approval in the next 12-24 months.
One of the most exciting prospects, however, is Exmar’s plans to explore the offshore renewables space, an area where the firm can take and apply its knowledge to a more sustainable sphere of the energy spectrum.
“I am very optimistic for the coming year and beyond,” Cotaya says, bringing the conversation to a close.
“I don’t believe the doomsday scenarios will be as bad as predicted. Difficult times lay ahead but the industry has always regrouped and redoubled its efforts. The offshore industry has weathered extreme highs and lows and continues to improve. We are in the age of energy transition and Exmar is part of it.”