Nasty whispers as contractors abuse each other

Vol 7, PW 6 (04 Jun 03) Exploration & Production

IN INDIA a tender of such magnitude will inevitably generate rumours, allegations and counter allegations.

ONGC's deepwater tender is no exception. We hear for example that someone is sending anonymous letters to ONGC and newspapers attacking Dolphin Drilling's financial credibility and the technical capability of its Belford Dolphin rig.

One such letter - not seen by this report but reportedly sent a month ago - talks of problems with the Belford's Blow Out Preventor (BOP) shortly after it was built in 2000. These problems forced Belfords downgrade from a 4,500 metre capable rig to a 3,000 metre capable rig.

One source accuses Transocean saying that when the downgrade happened the Belford was under the management of a company called: Transocean Sedco Forex. Only Transocean, argues this source, is in a position to make such precise allegations.

Naturally, Transocean refutes any smear campaign. Yet contacted by this report, ONGC confirms such letters are common.

"We've been getting this type of stuff for the past two years," reveals a source intricately involved with the tender. "Contractors are always abusing each other." Meanwhile, Transocean is reportedly furious at claims that it has overnight become ONGC's "favourite" and is set to win the contract - competition or no competition.

One source retorts that with 18 rigs at its disposal, Transocean controls 70% of the world's deepwater fleet; that ONGC's admiration for the company amounts to little more than genuine respect for a world leader in deepwater drilling. Still more speculation centres on the (highly sensitive) price bids.

One observer predicts that Transocean will quote three different rates for its three rigs in the hope that one of them will match or undercut Dolphin's bid and force it out of the race.