FLOATING LNG projects present new opportunities for Australian industry, particularly for Western Australia, and governments and businesses are being urged to strike while the iron is hot.

FLNG marks a major change in the way that natural gas fields can be developed – moving on from the need to develop large onshore facilities and in turn helping to make isolated fields commercially viable.

The world’s first large-scale FLNG facility, Shell’s Prelude FLNG project, is expected to commence production in 2016, and many in Australia are expecting that other similar projects will follow – both in Australian waters and overseas.

In a paper released by Engineers Australia late last year, the peak body reported that the engineering workforce across industry and academia had a strong desire to be as heavily engaged in FLNG as possible.

The report – Our FLNG Future; Engineering Opportunities and Challenges – said that there could be as many as five new FLNG facilities installed off the Western Australian coast over the next five years.

“There is a real appetite for close and meaningful collaboration among all parties: for operators to work together across project boundaries to rationalise and optimise the sharing of information; for engineering companies to collaborate in supporting the operations of the facilities; and for academia to collaborate on impactful research,” the report said.

The president of the Engineers Australia WA branch, Francis Norman, said the state had the opportunity to establish itself as a centre of knowledge and excellence in the operations and maintenance of the technology.

“Engineering companies need to be honest and open about their actual skills but also prepared to invest in developing the skills needed, and academia needs to produce both graduates and research that is relevant, wherever possible,” he said.

For consultant Jeanette Roberts, who currently sits on the State Training Board, and the Industry Advisory Group for the WA Energy Research Alliance, it is important to recognise the depth of talent that already exists.

“One of the things to recognise is that sometimes technology develops in a kind of greenfield space, but often it is from the basis of evolution of technology that is already there,” she told Oil & Gas Australia.

The miniaturisation of technologies and equipment, operation of large floating structures and dealing with extreme weather conditions were among the areas where Australian firms had enviable experience.

Australia’s experience in the delivery of large onshore LNG facilities, the construction of which was now coming to an end, was also a major asset, she said.

“It has given us a real capability in the execution of these global mega projects – global in anybody’s scale – skills such as execution in remote areas and complex logistics,” she said.

“I think it is important for us to recognise those skills… When it is around people’s skills and people’s knowledge, sometimes it is difficult for us to recognise that, and therefore understand what we can do with it.”

But Ms Roberts added that the oil and gas industry should also look to other sectors to find new ways of presenting their expertise to potential buyers, she said, and the sooner action is taken, the better.

“I do think we need to recognise that it is going to be really difficult… to make a step change and take advantage of the opportunity without collaboration between government, industry, academia and other pieces of the jigsaw,” she said.

“If we don’t do something proactive right now in terms of the technology, the collaboration, the people and the supply chain, then that opportunity will be lost.”

“That requires resources, people, focus, time and money,” she said.

Increasing collaboration between government, academia and industry was one way of taking a proactive approach, Ms Roberts said, citing the Floating LNG Training Centre at Henderson and the Western Australian Energy Research Alliance as examples.

She also recommended that a collaborative project to map an FLNG supply chain be carried out.

“We know enough now about what all the elements are, and we could map the supply chain and map the opportunities against current Australian capability,” she said.

“Then we could see what the gaps are and what it would take to fill those gaps and develop some actions to do that.”

These recommendations were echoed by Engineers Australia, which in addition to knowledge sharing and collaboration to identify new opportunities also called for the launch of an annual academic conference and grants and other incentives for the industry from governments.

Mr Norman said these skills could be marketed to organisations deploying FLNG into other regions of the world, if properly managed.

“Organisations need to be given opportunities by operators to fill some knowledge gaps and enable them to offer the best services possible to the operators,” he said.

Ms Roberts will be delivering an address on FLNG and the opportunities it brings to Australia on the second day of the Australasian Oil & Gas Exhibition & Conference, from 11-13 March 2015.