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ExxonMobil in icy innovation

ExxonMobil has researched a dynamic ice management system for protecting drillships and transiting tankers from drifting sheets of ice in the Arctic Ocean.

It involves two icebreakers positioned apart and away from the drillship in order to react and intercept ice floes before they reach the stationary drillship, according to a luncheon presentation by the US supermajor at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston today.

The first-stage ice-breaking vessel would be situated farthest away from the drillship as the first line of defence, said Luis Garza-Rios, supervisor Arctic, metocean and structures for ExxonMobil Upstream Research. The second-stage icebreaker would be closer to the drillship and intercept ice the first vessel missed.

Working together, these vessels would create a "managed ice channel" for the drillship. A similar operation creates a channel for offloading tankers passing through.

However, ice conditions can change rapidly in the Arctic, Garza-Rios said, and the system did not always work in simulation mode.

ExxonMobil carried out model tests of ice operations in 2008 and field trials in 2009 in the Fram Strait. "We have built a pretty good understanding of how these ice breakers can be deployed to effectively manage the ice floes," said Garza-Rios.

The supermajor is keen to pursue research in this area so it is better prepared for future Arctic operations.

Separately during the luncheon, ExxonMobil Upstream Research senior marine engineer Roald Lokken said floating LNG is technically doable, but awaits the right project.

"We have been in and out of research and development of floating LNG since I started in 1980," Lokken said. "At the moment I do not believe we have any active reserves that it would be appropriate for."

"From a technology perspective, for the right application, I think we would be ready."