By Andrew Hobbs

OPPORTUNITIES for Australian innovators and contractors surround Shell’s Prelude floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) development as the structure nears completion, AOG 2015 attendees were told.

Prelude asset manager Jim Marshall told attendees that the company expected to award 45 of the key contracts needed to support Prelude in 2015.

“This year is really going to be acritical year in the contracting and procurement space,” he said.

“2015 will see the award of contracts such as facilities management, running the hotel, the accommodation, maintenance and modification services, laboratory services and production chemicals.”

Shell aimed for many of these services to be provided by Australian groups, he said, noting that logistics would be one of the largest contracting expenses for the group.

In Australia, three of the seven wells to be drilled for the permit had been completed, while development of the project’s aviation and marine base in Broome and the Prelude Offshore Supply Base in Darwin were complete, Mr Marshall added.

More broadly, Prelude was now well into its construction phase at the Samsung Heavy Industry shipyard in Geoje – with eight out of 14 topside modules lifted onto the facility by mid-March.

“So progressively over the next few months we will be lifting the remaining six up onto the deck and we then will really get into integration between the individual modules and between the modules and systems in the substructure,” Mr Marshall said, adding that the project would then move onto pre-commissioning works.

The turret – the connection between the FLNG facility and the seabed, would be fully installed by the end of the year – with four of six necessary modules already in place.

Weighing roughly six times as much as the world’s largest aircraft carrier and stretching 488 metres long and 74 metres wide, building and operating the Prelude FLNG facility was always going to pose a set of unique challenges.

The job of matching these challenges with the technology being developed by companies and through academia falls to Shell Australia technology manager Claus Otto, who told attendees the company was employing a variety of methods to find new solutions.

Boasting an annual research and development budget of over $1 billion – $5 million of which was under his control, Mr Otto said the company employed a strategy of open innovation.

“We seek out original ideas, from the unproved ones – more the exploratory research – to the ready to deploy,” he said.

Other strategies included the Shell GameChanger program, which encourages people to submit a suggestion for the company to consider researching, and the company’s Australian Innovations Challenge.

In addition to these were the company’s partnerships with research institutions such as the WA Energy Research Alliance, the CSIRO and tertiary education institutions such as the University of Western Australia (UWA), Curtin University and the Challenger Institute of Technology.

“We have encouraged research collaboration between the partners and that leads to a more holistic and better developed R&D output,” he said.

As the North West Shelf seafloor possesses unique conditions, Shell was also looking to research done by UWA on mooring and anchoring systems for the facility.

Mr Otto said Prelude was also experiencing unique conditions in its experience of marine growth and other biofouling in the area – saying there was little public data available.

“We need to inspect offshore structures for marine growth as well, for any corrosion happening behind or under the marine growth,” he said.

Curtin’s research capability around microbial corrosion and the pitting to vessels it can cause was state-of-the-art, he said, but added he was keen to look at robotic technologies for cleaning hulls and mooring chains, rather than sending down divers.

After all, he said, the company already used robotics technologies for vessel integrity inspection.

Another challenge the Prelude FLNG facility faced was remaining stable in a changing marine environment, Mr Otto said.

Situated off the coast of far north west Western Australia, the Prelude facility is to be situated in a cyclone-prone area, with Mr Marshall saying staff would not be evacuated in the case of a cyclone.

The facility was built to withstand a one in 10,000 year storm – a rating far above the conditions experienced in a Category five Cyclone – he said, with numerous safety studies carried out for both personnel and on the integrity of the facility.

“The fact the facility stays on station and can operate in severe conditions has significant safety benefits. It avoids the safety risks of demanning and with some FPSOs disconnecting and reconnecting to the gas field,” he said.

Mr Otto said that Shell, along with Chevron and Woodside, had embarked on a partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology to develop what he called the next generation of tropical cyclone conditions.

“It is no good if companies hold onto their Metocean data, and my opinion – and that is my personal view – we should be sharing this. So hopefully that will happen, and that is certainly happening in this collaboration,” he said.