Pushing technological boundaries

It is no ordinary technology that can handle drilling at temperatures of up to 350° Fahrenheit and pressure of 20,000 pounds per square inch. Maersk Drilling and BP explain how their relationship helps push the technological boundaries in the quest for ultra-deepwater oil and gas.

This drillship is not a 20K, but the final 20K will look something like this.

What is Project 20KTM?

  • BP announced the launch of Project 20K™ in February 2012 to develop conceptual engineering designs for a new breed of advanced technology offshore drilling rigs, critical to unlocking the next frontier of deepwater oil and gas r esources. 20K™ stands for new technology that can handle drilling at temperatures of up to 350° Fahrenheit and pressure of 20,000 pounds per square inch.
  • It aims to develop technologies over the next decade in four key areas: well design and completions; drilling rigs, riser and blowout prevention equipment; subsea production systems and well intervention and containment. 
  • A jointly staffed BP and Maersk Drilling engineering team evaluates potential rig concepts applicable to BP’s deepwater portfolio. It performs the engineering studies required to select the optimal design of the 20KTM drilling rigs, riser and blowout prevention equipment.
  • The conceptual engineering designs and any resulting patents for the 20KTM rig will be owned by Maersk Drilling and licensed to BP.

When BP was considering how to extract more oil and gas from its existing assets in the Gulf of Mexico, it concluded that the biggest barrier was the capability of the rigs rather than the geology.

That meant it needed more sophisticated drilling technology to handle the high pressure and temperatures – and BP and Maersk Drilling found a good fit with each other. The two companies have embarked on a novel new partnership called Project 20KTM, which is pushing the technological limits of hydrocarbon exploration.

“We chose Maersk Drilling because at that time we believed they possessed the technical skill, creativity, ­leadership and capability to take this project from concept to reality,” says Kevin Kennelley, BP’s Vice President of ­Facilities Technology in its Upstream Technology group.

“Since then, we like to say that ‘BP selected Maersk Drilling, and Maersk Drilling selected BP’, because our strategies, capabilities and commitment have been very much aligned since day one, and we have already delivered a measure of success in our partnership in this important endeavour.”

Value drivers

Unlocking the next frontier of deepwater oil and gas resources has become increasingly important as fields mature and extraction from tougher locations moves up the agenda.

The BP and Maersk Drilling partnership is designed to develop rigs that can safely and efficiently operate in high-pressure and high-temperature reservoirs, and hence tap into hydrocarbon reserves that are harder to find and extract. The challenge comes in ensuring that the equipment can stand up to the pressure and temperature, meaning it tends to be larger and hence stronger. 

“Generally speaking, we believe portions of the Paleogene play in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico will require Project 20KTM technologies. We also believe Project 20KTM technology will be necessary to maximise the potential of a number of other deepwater plays around the world,” Kennelley says.

We get a much better, real understanding of the needs of the customer – what are the value drivers, what are the pain points?
Frederik Smidth, Maersk Drilling’s Chief Technical Officer.

The project has started to take clearer shape with Maersk Drilling’s order in June of four blowout preventers and two risers, so it will be able to deliver the rigs from early 2018. There is a commitment to design the rigs but still no signed contract for their construction and delivery. 

“From our side, we have a better chance of making a deal if we’re in early,” says Frederik Smidth, Maersk Drilling’s Chief Technical Officer. “We get a much better, real understanding of the needs of the customer – what are the value drivers, what are the pain points?”


The partnership is a key plank of Maersk Drilling’s aim to become a significant and stable contributor to group profit by developing and growing its business in very deepwater and harsh environments. The commercial model could also be applied to other partnerships, Smidth explains. 

“It’s much more open and we have access to their data. If either side is not delivering, each can tell the other. It’s very civilised, and there is an early detection system. We have a code for working together that is based on the two companies’ values,” he says. 

One unexpected way in which the partnership has delivered is an enhanced capability for the storage of mud for open-hole drilling. Maersk Drilling was able to adapt the design to store more mud on board, meaning fewer boats were needed to take it off and therefore less risk and cost. 

“The fact is there has never been a time in this industry that you could be successful going it alone and that’s truer today than ever,” Kennelley adds. “With the world’s energy needs rising and the ‘easy oil’ gone, we will continue to look for ways to collaborate in areas where we see a strategic benefit and it makes sense.” 

Looking back …

Innovative customer solutions back in the day

Not everything fits into a container. When replacing the conventional cargo liners with container ships back in 1975, Maersk Line introduced the container-sized artificial tween deck to accommodate customer needs for the transportation of heavy-duty machinery.

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