Meet the 7 different types of oil platforms!

  • 25/03/2021
  • 10 minutes

The universe of platforms is vast. Exploration and production in the O&G market – Oil and Gas – requires a constant evolution of processes, structures, and cutting-edge technologies.

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It was in this search for efficiency, sustainability, and productive capacity that we moved from the first onshore extractions to the types of offshore oil platforms that we see today – capable of searching for raw materials on the high seas and in challenging conditions like those in the pre-salt.

Do you want to understand better about all types of structures that have resulted from this constant evolution and research? With the support of Gilberto Cardarelli, executive director of Wilson Sons (offshore support base), we have compiled a list of the 7 main types of platforms. Follow.

1. Fixed

Before presenting all the items in this list, it is worth noting that one of the main distinctions in the subject, raised by Gilberto Cardarelli, is that there are two categories of platform: drilling and production.

“The well drilling platforms operate in the exploration and development of the field, where the wells are drilled for future oil production” – says the professional with 30 years of experience in the offshore platform operation area, and for 6 years in the Group Wilson Sons. “After the oil field is discovered, the mapping for the location of the production wells is made. Typically, 20 to 30 wells are drilled in the larger fields,” he says.

The fixed platform is an example of a structure designed to produce, but which can also be used in drilling. Its main characteristic is the fixation by means of steel piles in the maritime soil. Its installation is viable in shallow water up to 120m deep.

2. Self-elevating

The self-elevating platform has a similar use to the fixed platform – it is also planned for use in shallow water, not exceeding 130 meters. The differences are in the exclusive purpose of drilling and, mainly, in its mobility. With a hydraulic jack-and-pinion mechanism, it can settle at one point, do its job, lower the structure and float to be moved to another location.

Generally, as Gilberto explains, a fixed platform is installed at the perforated site as soon as the self-elevating finishes the service. “It is usually not the same platform because it has a mobility system that is expensive, so it does not pay to use it without taking advantage of this feature”.

According to him, it is an extremely popular type all over the world, but almost no longer used in Brazil – since our oil is found in deep waters.

3. Semi-submersible

The structure of a semi-submersible platform is catamaran in most cases. This configuration was the result of research and technological evolution in the sector that sought exploration and production in deep waters.

Thus, the unit is anchored (usually uses 8 anchors), being able to move easily and quickly for use in waters between 100m and 2000m deep.

The semi-submersible can be used for both drilling and production, but this choice is made in advance – the vessel already leaves the shipyard prepared for one of the two purposes. It was a type of platform widely used in the 1970s and 1980s, and even today, more modern versions for ultra-deep waters are designed on a smaller scale.


TLWP stands for Tension Leg Wellhead Platform, a technology created by a Norwegian for extraction mainly in the Arctic seas. The idea was to start from a semi-submersible and secure it to the bottom of the sea with tensioned steel cables attached to piles driven into the seabed.

This technology allowed the creation of a stable platform with a “dry” production system, however, in water depths up to 1,000m deep. According to Gilberto, it is a complicated installation and with complex operation. Considering the climatic conditions in Brazil, in addition to deeper depths, the type of floating production unit is suggested.

5. Drillship

The dynamic positioning rig-type platform is widely used for drilling in ultra-deep waters – reaching 3,500m deep. Its primary function is for the drilling and production testing of wells that will be explored in the future.

Its hybrid feature is what makes the model more practical for companies. “It has better performance than the semi-submersible and, as it is a ship, it moves more quickly between locations, in addition to covering continental distances in less time”, explains Gilberto, “it is also more stable, since in the semi-submersible the deck is very high.” The drill ship also uses acoustic sensors and propellants to cut waves and mitigate the action of winds, thus keeping the platform more stable.


Generally, the FPSO platform is responsible for production at the site drilled by a drill ship. The acronym comes from Floating Production Storage Offloading (a floating production, storage, and transfer unit), a model that emerged in the 1990s.

Contrary to the idea of being a platform, the FPSO is a large tanker vessel with storage capacity that does all the work of extracting oil and storing it for the time necessary until transfer to the shuttle is possible.

Like the drill ship, it can work even in ultra-deep waters, reaching 3,000m. Gilberto points out that it is a model of wide adaptability to conditions in Brazil, being the most used for this purpose.

7. FPSO Monocolumn

A variant of the traditional FPSO, the platform in this mono-column model is described by Gilberto as “a giant bucket in the water”. It is a simple way to understand the idea behind it, a reduced, round-hulled version of its larger variant.

Like the FPSO, it can extract and storing crude oil and then transferring it to other transport vessels. According to the executive director of Wilson Sons, the model is not as used in Brazil as the previous one, which is the most popular in the country with some clearance for use in deep waters.

“One of the negative points of the Monocolumn is that, when the sea gets rough, the ship makes an excessive vertical movement (heave), which can stress the production lines in a short period of time with the very rough sea”.

But that does not mean that one model stands out from the others. After all, the variety of models exists because each country has its coastline and its oil fields in places with specific characteristics, requiring a specific type of vessel, more appropriate and compatible with the technology of the time when the field was developed.

This is a journey that will never be interrupted. With research and development in the sector, we will see efficient, smart, and safe projects in a growing. Thus, the E&P market remains heated and the risks of oil spills at sea become increasingly remote.

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