Beijing deploys new deepwater drilling rig in South China Sea



Beijing has deployed a new oil rig in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Photo: WeiboBeijing has deployed a new oil rig in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

China has deployed a deepwater oil rig in the South China Sea, according to a state media report.
The ‘Haiyang Shiyou 982’, or ‘Ocean Oil 982’, went into operation on Saturday in waters up to 3,000 metres (9,850 feet) deep, according to Chang An Jian, a social media account run by the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.

The machine, which is China’s largest and most advanced of its kind, is expected to drill at depths of up to 5,000 metres, it said.

The report did not say where the rig had been positioned, but news of its deployment came as part of Beijing’s propaganda push ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, which falls on Tuesday.

Beijing has been increasing its resource exploration efforts since 2016 in a bid to reduce its dependence on foreign suppliers for its crude oil.

Those concerns intensified last month after the government said it would impose punitive tariffs on US crude oil imports as part of its ongoing trade war, and the drone attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, which is China’s second-largest source of crude, after Russia.

Beijing claims more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea, which holds an estimated 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil in proved and probable reserves. That vast wealth of resources has made it a hotbed for conflict and disputes, with several other countries and regions, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all holding competing claims.

“Under the vast seabed of the South China Sea there is one third of China’s oil and gas reserve,” the social media report said. “[This] is one of the four reserve hubs of offshore gas and oil and is called ‘the second Persian Gulf’.”

While few would question the wealth of resources available, Li Zhong, an engineer with China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), one of the country’s largest oil companies said actually getting access to it was not so easy.

“[You only know] … if there’s any oil once you’ve drilled deep enough,” he was quoted as saying in the report.

Since 2010, CNOOC has sunk more than 50 appraisal wells in the sea and discovered several major deepwater gas fields, including Dongfang 13-1, Dongfang 13-2, Lingshui 17-2 and Lingshui 25-1, the report said.

Another, the Yacheng 13-4 gas field – located about 72km (45 miles) southwest of China’s island province of Hainan – went into operation in 2012 and since then the gas it has delivered to Hong Kong via a 778km pipeline, has been used to generate a quarter of the city’s electricity, it said.

In March last year, China Oilfield Services, CNOOC’s sister company, took delivery of an advanced semi-submersible oil platform – the Haiyang Shiyou 982 – which was designed by Norway’s Agility Group. The rig is capable of withstanding winds of up to 200km/h (125mph) and can drill to depths of more than 9,000 metres.

China’s first deepwater rig platform – the Haiyang Shiyou 981 – went into operation in the South China Sea in 2012. In 2014 it was moved close to the Paracel Islands but was later relocated after Vietnam said it violating its territorial rights.