Audrey Leon chats with Gerald (Jerry) Stone, senior vice president, Fluor Offshore Solutions, about his unlikely career in engineering, his take on the current market situation, and his work in harsh environments.
Gerald Stone, senior vice president, Fluor Offshore Solutions, comes from a military family, and it is that background that eventually put him on a path toward civil engineering that has led him all over the world, and to take on harsh environment projects such as Hebron offshore Newfoundland, Canada, and Sakhalin Island, offshore Russia. His career path, Stone told OE, was just being at the “right place at the right time.”
Stone’s father retired from the military as a sergeant major, and Stone’s family traveled the world, living abroad in France and Germany. Stone, who was born in Alaska, eventually attended school at The Citadel earning a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering. After graduating, he spent 10 years as an engineer in the US Army, eventually joining the US Army Corps of Engineers, which led him to earn a master’s in civil engineering from Clemson University. Stone joined Fluor in 1989, first coming up through the ranks on the construction side, but eventually serving on megaprojects on the oil and gas side.
Stone served as program director for Fluor’s work on Sakhalin Island and led the formation of Fluor’s Russian joint venture, Sakhalin Neftegas Technology. This work has been ongoing since 2003, and has consisted of four major projects – and a few smaller capital projects – amounting to US$10 billion over the last 12 years. The company’s scope of work has included a 250,000 b/d onshore processing facility on the island, a satellite facility, offshore pipelines, two offshore platforms, and Stone says, Fluor is now also working on an expansion to the satellite facility.
There are plenty of issues involved with harsh environments that make the work complicated. “Weather is always a factor; the sea lift window is always a factor,” Stone says. “We have to do everything around delivering modules and offshore kits in a pretty tight weather window on Sakhalin Island. That’s part of the logistics and other things we have to deal with. Any work in and around the island is very expensive so we try to get everything modularized and we try to get the kits completed and fully pre-commissioned before we even get there.”
To help Fluor accomplish their work off Sakhalin, the company created another joint venture called ANGS, on Russia’s Sakhalin Island, which offers full-service fabrication and modular assembly solutions. Fluor has repeated this strategy in China, where, in 2015, it formed a new joint venture with COOEC called COOEC-Fluor Heavy Industries Co., Ltd. The two companies will own, operate and manage the 2 million sq m Zhuhai fabrication yard in the Guangdong province, which will be able to accommodate fabrication modules weighing more than 50,000 tons.
The new yard in China is part of the reason why Stone remains positive about the industry despite the oil price.
“Everyone is thinking that the offshore market is going to be stressed,” Stone says. “I’m a little bit counter to that. Particularly because of the yard in Zhuhai. The impact of this venture in China – some of it has to be because offshore projects are longer term plays for owners. Immediately we started getting inquiries from clients.”
Stone explains that the average time from when operators find the play to when it achieves production can take between 10-20 years, and no matter what the current price is, most choose to keep projects moving forward.
Stone remains positive that the impact of the new yard will also spread to new markets for the offshore division, including opening Fluor to the FPSO and decommissioning markets. And while the news hasn’t been too positive for FPSOs, Stone believes there is life yet in that market.
“There are a lot of FPSOs that people are wringing their hands about, but there are still other FPSOs that we know are moving forward,” Stone says. “Some will be leased, and in the past we hadn’t considered that market, but we are very interested and we believe we will have a play in assisting that market.”