April 2014
Technology from Europe

Dutch firms making impact in frontier areas

The Netherlands’ longstanding connection with the sea is reflected in the global reach of its companies in the oil and gas sector.

As Sander Vergroesen, managing director of IRO, the Association of Dutch Suppliers in the Oil and Gas Industry, explains, Dutch firms are positioning themselves to take advantage of opportunities opening up in frontier acreage around the world.  

World Oil: Could you tell us a bit about IRO’s history and its members?

Sander Vergroesen: We were founded in 1971. At the start, the association included everyone that played a role in the North Sea. There was a mix of operators, suppliers and the government.

We kept it like that until 1991, when we decided to become an association solely for upstream oil and gas suppliers. Since then we’ve had steady growth, so that right now we have around 420 member companies covering the complete supply chain for upstream oil and gas.

The Netherlands is very strong in offshore. We are in the world’s top five in terms of suppliers. Our members range from large companies that are market leaders, worldwide, to small- and medium-sized enterprises—the sort of companies that develop a lot of innovations that they can then pass on to the larger firms.

The IRO now does a lot for export promotion. We coordinate with the Dutch pavilions at all major oil and gas exhibitions, and with the government on trade missions. We try to collaborate with the Dutch government on these trips, as it is very important to step in at the right level, especially where NOCs are involved.

We also arrange trade missions ourselves. Last year, for example, we went to Mexico, because we believe there are going to be a lot of opportunities for Dutch suppliers of all sizes, there in the future.

We can bring our members into contact with the major players, which in many countries, include the NOCs. In February, I traveled to Mozambique and Tanzania with a Dutch government mission. Where there are new developments, we try to step in as early as possible on behalf of our members. They have to follow up themselves, of course, but our role is to help them discover new areas.

WO: Which are the strongest sectors of the supply chain for Dutch companies?

Vergroesen: We have global market leaders in pipe laying, like Allseas, or dredging, such as Boskalis and Tideway. Holland is also very strong for construction, with companies like Heerema Fabrication Group. Huisman is very big in heavy lift and installs the largest cranes for ships.

Dockwise has developed the Vanguard vessel, which is capable of transporting the largest semisubs—and it is also going to be used to transport the Costa Concordia liner that capsized in Italy, too. SBM Offshore, the shipbuilder IHC, Damen shipyards: these are all Dutch companies very much involved in the latest developments. We pretty much cover the full supply chain.

WO: What other pioneering Dutch oil and gas technology should be highlighted?

Vergroesen: Decommissioning is the next step for Dutch firms. Allseas is developing the Pieter Schelte, which looks like a very large catamaran with two hulls, each the size of two VLCCs. It can take off the topside of a rig in one piece at one end, and also lift the jackets out of the sea and put them on the other side of the ship. That means you can do a complete deconstruction in one voyage, rather than taking a rig apart bit by bit at sea. Its first job is expected to be in the North Sea.

Or there is Ampelmann, which has developed motion compensation, which makes it easier for crews to transfer from a vessel to oil rigs or wind turbines at sea. Barge Master has developed technology with a similar ability to compensate for wave movement, but their vessels can take a crane, so goods can be transferred from a stable platform more safely.

WO: What role are Dutch firms playing in supplying technology for EOR and extending field life?

Vergroesen: The government would like to extend the life of Dutch fields as long as possible, so joint industry projects have been created between companies and technical institutions in the Netherlands, to see what new techniques can be developed. The government needs to support innovation, as the Netherlands still hopes to be producing 30 Bcm of gas from the North Sea by 2030.

WO: What about other areas of the world? Where can we expect Dutch firms to make inroads?

Vergroesen: In Mexico, Dutch companies are trying to make sure they are ready, when the oil and gas industry there becomes more liberalized. We are developing our relationship with Pemex to see what we can do there. I think the regulatory changes will achieve what the Mexican government is hoping for, in terms of enabling foreign companies to play a greater role.

Dutch companies that are already working in deepwater Brazil and can easily transfer their expertise to Mexico. They have developed equipment and vessels for work at 3,000-m depths, and that is what is going to be needed in the Gulf of Mexico.

We are also looking at East Africa, and Dutch firms are already in Australia. SBM Offshore built the turret for Shell’s Prelude floating LNG project, the world’s largest floating object.

We work all over the world. Energy demand is going to rise over coming decades, and Dutch companies and products are going to play a large role in meeting it.

WO: Are your members branching out into other areas of offshore technology, such as the burgeoning North Sea wind sector?

Vergroesen: Dutch firms that are strong in transport, installation and lifting for the oil and gas sector are also expanding into offshore wind farm construction. They make multi-purpose vessels and try to be one-stop shops. They are good at that.

Companies, such as Bluewater, a Dutch firm that builds FPSOs and other offshore technology, is also using its know-how from the oil and gas industry to develop tidal energy projects. wo-box_blue.gif


A.P.H. (SANDER) VERGROESEN has been managing director of IRO since January 2012. He has more than 20 years of experience in various senior management positions in commercial services. From 2009 to 2011, he worked in the Arabian Gulf area, based in Dubai, where he served as owners representative for Dutch oil and gas sector personnel firm iPS. He then worked as business development manager, Oil & Gas, for iPS in Capelle aan den Ijssel, The Netherlands, before joining IRO.
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