By Andrew Hobbs

WOODSIDE has signed a five year charter contract with Norwegian company Siem Offshore Australia for the supply of a marine support vessel powered mainly by liquefied natural gas.

The vessel, set to be delivered to Australia in January 2017, will be based at the Kings Bay supply base near Karratha and will support Woodside’s operations across the North West Shelf and the Pluto project.

Woodside chief operations officer Mike Utsler said the vessel would be refuelled by trucks initially, with the company to set up a portable bunkering facility at Kings Bay.

“Longer term you can see scenarios where we expand and develop greater marine operations and opportunities, where marine bunkering could become an important part of building the chain of domestic LNG utilisation all across the Northern Territory and Western Australia coastline to meet business needs to support mining and power generation in remote mine sites,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the 18th international conference & exhibition on liquefied natural gas (LNG 18).

“It will be small scale, expandable with the idea of building a land-based trucking terminal bunkering site for marine fuels as a combined facility.”

Able to run on 98 per cent LNG, with the remainder being diesel, the vessel is likely to be the first of its kind introduced to Australia, Mr Utsler said.

“Our LNG tankers use their cargo to power their engines, making them cleaner vessels that use less diesel. It’s natural that we progress this capability through to our support vessels,” he said.

Woodside will continue to seek to expand the application of LNG-fuelling in transportation in WA, he added, with the company considering retrofitting the existing 16 diesel powered vessels in its fleet.

“Retrofitting in the LNG dual fuelling world is a technology that is becoming very cost competitive, so it is applicable for consideration,” he said.

“Our first step is in proving and demonstrating, in which we have great confidence… and then we will look at how we expand our operations.”

Siem Offshore chief executive Idar Hillersøy said dual fuelled vessels such as these had been operational in Norway for the past 15 years.

“It has however only been the last few years that environmental and financial imperatives have started to bring this to the fore,” he said.

“We are proud to be working with Woodside and to bring our knowledge and experience that we believe will be beneficial for all stakeholders.”