Spotlight: What lies beneath-an outstanding contribution

March 27, 2014

John WhiteJohn White has seen many changes in the oil and gas industry over his 40 years in the business.

Subsea infrastructure has become increasingly diverless and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) have enabled work in deeper, harsher environments.

But White (pictured) did more than just witness these changes. He co-founded Furness Underwater Engineering (FUEL) in 1979. It was one of the first specialist subsea engineering companies. 

He led the design of the Diverless Maintained Cluster (DMaC) field architecture, adopted by BP in the 1990s, for the Foinaven and Schiehallion fields, and subsequently the Quadrant 204 development, all in the harsh waters West of Shetland.

His efforts were recognized with an outstanding contribution award at Subsea UK Business Awards, during Subsea Expo, in Aberdeen, in February.

“White developed a subsea engineering philosophy in which the connector, the ROV, the ROV tooling, and the installation vessel, were each inter-dependent components of an integrated system,” said Peter Roberts, chairman, VerdErg.

“This philosophy of tailoring the subsea hardware to suit the functional requirements of the project, rather than the project configuration being adapted to standard ‘catalogue’ hardware, was revolutionary in its day and remains the most effective way to implement frontier projects.”

White is a graduate of City University, London with a BSc in Mechanical Engineering.

In 1974, he joined Vickers Oceanics, which owned and operated manned submersibles. As a Project Engineer, White’s task was the design, manufacture, commissioning, and operation of submersible tooling systems.

By 1978, as general manager of Vickers Underwater Pipeline Engineering, he then pioneered the development of diverless pipeline repair techniques and equipment. In 1979, as manned submersibles gave way to ROVs, White left to co-found FUEL.

FUEL was involved in several pioneering subsea field developments, including the Central Cormorant Underwater Manifold Centre, for Shell Expro. The company went on to develop and test an integrated subsea production system, and then an ROV-maintained cluster well/manifold system, for Esso Exploration and Production UK.

These frontier technologies eventually became the DMaC field architecture, adopted by BP in the early 1990s, for its Foinaven and Schiehallion fields, and now the Quadrant 204 development.

One feature of the DMaC field architecture was a requirement for all equipment, including the manifold, to be capable of deployment through a drilling vessel moonpools. To produce a sufficiently compact manifold, connections had to be spaced at only 1m centers. The result was a lightweight, compact-design field manifold and DMaC connector, both of which remain class-leading to this day. 

During the 1990s, White also led FUEL through the transition from pure consultancy to virtual manufacturer, when FUEL was asked by BP to take responsibility for the detail design, testing, and manufacture of the key component of the DMaC field architecture—the DMaC diverless connector and its innovative drag-to-place ROV tooling.

In 2005, a management buy-out saw FUEL become VerdErg Connectors, with White as Operations Director. Since then, the company has experienced a five-fold growth.

It opened a new 40,000sq ft assembly and testing facility, at Bromborough, on the Wirral, Merseyside, in 2012. Work is due to complete February 2014 on a new 10,000psi gas and hydro test chamber at the Bromborough facility.

The business also recently opened an office in Houston. White, a Chartered Engineer, and a Fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineers, recently became technical development director, VerdErg, to oversee technical integrity of new and existing products.