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How Hovercraft Are Used In The Energy Sector

"One hovercraft journey at 45 knots can substitute multiple, more expensive, riskier flights"


With operations conducted in every corner of the globe, from the frozen extremities of Alaska to North Western Australia's Bonaparte Basin, the energy industry exists in every habitat known to man. Extracting natural resources in today's world is inextricably linked with operating from environments that have little to no infrastructure, isolating the personnel and equipment conducting the crucial tasks that allow business to succeed. Despite operations occurring over these transitional, low infrastructure areas the traditional displacement draft vessels relied on to connect locations or respond to events weren't built for these shallow water or frozen environments. This leads to compromise, leading to cost; either through adapting the environment itself with docks and dredging or circumventing the environment altogether.

Helicopters are often used for their ability to fly over challenging terrain quickly. Whilst offering a useful capability for specialised roles they are often very costly without providing the level of practicality required. A helicopter is also limited in carrying capacity in order to efficiently maintain lift and mobility, so helicopter operations result in multiple expensive trips. Even the availability of the helicopters can be limited due to the costs and challenges of maintenance to keep them safe and fit to fly in austere environments. Weather can also all too easily restrict their use due to the level of the risk of flying in limited visibility. These factors translate into not only loss of reliable service and consequential impact to the revenue operations but profitability of the business.

Hovercraft are designed and adapted for a specific role and out-perform those that are improvised from the status quo, giving a more resilient and cost-effective service. By creating lift, up to "hover heights" of 1.8 metres, a hovercraft's hull is separated from the environment, providing the ability to overcome the obstacles conventional vehicles face whilst operating on land, water and everything in between. Their high carry capacity up to 35-67 tonnes mean whilst not travelling as quickly as helicopters, and not being able to fly over mountains, one hovercraft journey at 45 knots can substitute multiple, more expensive, riskier flights and can be accomplished in lower visibility conditions.

The "Arctic Hawk" 2000TD operates in the frozen conditions of Northern Alaska. Here, 6 miles off shore in Prudhoe Bay oil field where roughly half a million barrels of oil a day is extracted, the man-made North Star Island operates in isolation. The extreme environmental conditions mean the sea is often either partially or fully frozen throughout the year preventing the use of boats and heavy fog grounding helicopters. The hovercraft operates here year-round to ensure supplies, personnel and equipment can be connected to North Star efficiently, in total certainty. It has even aided other drilling sites in times of need, as Crowley Offshore Services Vice President Bruce Harland stated "With the road cut-off and heavy fog preventing helicopters from flying in and out, Hilcorp diverted the hovercraft Arctic Hawk from its normal duties of supporting NorthStar Island, to shuttle people, groceries and other supplies to Endicott". The service has now been taken over by HDR Marine who have plans to expand their operations.

The larger 22 tonne payload BHT, the "Caspian Falcon" will be operating in the Northern Caspian Sea for Caspian Offshore Construction (COC). The craft was acquired by COC in 2018 for "year-round services for the transportation of personnel and goods between the islands of the Kashagan Oil Field on the sea shelf of Kazakhstan" the CEO Timur Sharipiyev commented. Currently undergoing sea ice trials, with a top speed of over 45 knots the Falcon will make up to a 180-mile journey connecting artificial islands to the mainland for delivering the frequent high payload of people and consumables required.

Whilst used in the oil and gas industry primarily for transportation, hovercraft are environmentally bespoke meaning they can fulfil multiple needs within that environment whilst having minimal impact on it. Hovering over the surface, carrying the necessary equipment direct to the target, in situations of oil spill they can provide a stable work platform that has minimal contact with the affected area. From firefighting, to search & rescue, to scientific surveys and even ice breaking, hovercraft have been proven by commercial companies and government organisations to reliably deliver their high level of capability over difficult transitional environments.

2000TD_Sabvaba _Arctic _september 2014

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