Prelude, Browse to springboard WA

WOODSIDE Petroleum's Browse project and Shell's Prelude could turn Western Australia into an expert centre for floating LNG that will influence the next generation of such projects globally, an Engineers Australia FLNG report has revealed.
Prelude, Browse to springboard WA Prelude, Browse to springboard WA Prelude, Browse to springboard WA Prelude, Browse to springboard WA Prelude, Browse to springboard WA

The report - produced from extensive consultations with Woodside, Santos, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell along with Clough, WorleyParsons, Wood Group Kenny and GHD - said WA engineering can position itself to grow with the adoption of FLNG, but warned Singapore was providing stiff competition.

Santos was consulted as it was partnered with GDF Suez in the Bonaparte project, while Clough, WorleyParsons, Wood Group Kenny and GHD among others were also consulted on the supply side.

Murdoch, Curtin, Edith Cowan universities and the University of Western Australia were also heavily involved, along with Challenger TAFE where Australian Centre for Energy and Process Training (ACEPT) is based where facility operators are trained; the WA Energy Research Alliance with CSIRO; and the Energy and Minerals Institute.

From all this, EA identified world-class R&D niche areas and responses to local challenges like metocean conditions and remote operations as areas that WA can hone in on to capitalise on Prelude and Browse, when it happens.

This is in stark contrast to the obsession both at federal and state level by governments and unions over the need for onshore development of projects like Browse when it's common knowledge both among major operators and suppliers that the expertise to design and construct plants simply doesn't exist in Australia, but the ongoing operational skills do.

"There is sometimes the belief that we don't have the skills to support an FLNG industry, but we do - we've supported FPSOs for 20-odd years in Australian waters and Australian LNG plants along our coastline," EA WA Division president Francis Norman told Energy News on the sidelines of the Australasian Oil and Gas Expo in Perth last week.

"The FLNG is an evolution rather than an evolution, moving to the next logical step.

"There was clear belief in everyone we spoke to that we're not in a position to design and build them from scratch, but once they were here and operating we could learn from them to the point where we would be able to start to influence how they were designed and built in other parts of the world."

This, he said, was simply because "we would know how they work, rather than to know how they're designed and built. So then as time went by we'd influence earlier in the development cycle what future FLNG projects would look like".

As far as the direct skills, most of the skills needed for FLNG are already here, though some of the skills may not be here but are available elsewhere and can be imported - "and we are a nice place to come and work".

Even when the other needed skills that were not available in WA may not be available anywhere else, which only presents the state with yet more opportunities to actually build those skills specifically into the local skill set.

"Once we have a facility operating here and Australian engineers involved in supporting that operation they will learn things to bring that knowledge of operational support into making the next generation of these facilities, which will be better because of what work we've done on it," Norman said.

"We have the whole skill set to operate FLNG. We have people now being trained as operators, we have technicians as technical support facilities; we have metocean people to understand the weather conditions."

The specialist skills likely to be needed include mooring systems for FLNG, naval architecture, corrosion protection for such large stationary marine facilities, asset integrity specific to large floating production facilities and locally based procurement.

"We only really have two universities that train naval architects, in Tasmania and Sydney, but we don't train them here in the west, which is surprising considering the amount of offshore and subsea activity we have here," Norman said.

"The whole range of standard engineers can adapt their standard skills quite readily to the FLNG skills, it's just a case of learning the subtle differences of where they've worked previously and supporting FLNG.

"The skills of someone who's worked supporting an FPSO, working in an area which is similar to FLNG, would transfer quite readily. Similarly, for people who have been working on liquefaction trains in the onshore space in Western Australia and Queensland, their skills would transfer directly."

The Senate Inquiry into the economic implications of FLNG operations which delivered its final report last May focused on the economic impact on the difference between building an onshore LNG facility versus building an offshore floating LNG facility, but Norman believes it was too one-sided - and short-sighted at that.

"It looked heavily at the design and construct phase of the facility and had less of a view on the ongoing operational phase," Norman said.

"They were very much looking at the here and now of the short-term - the next 3-5 years of building a standard, traditional onshore LNG plant similar to what we have now with Woodside, Chevron and Inpex - rather than the longer-term of the next 25-40 years."

He has no doubt, however, there are going to be changes to the industry as a result of building the current LNG facilities onshore.

"There will be a decline in job opportunities in the construction phase, but the longer-term opportunities are still there, as the revenue and skills from those people will be here for generations," he said.

"The ones who work in the heavy civil construction building roads etc as part of the onshore plants will find their skills won't transfer so readily to an offshore facility, but the electrical, operational, mechanical people who look at some of the technology, their skills will still transfer."

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