Drill ship's departure may be the end of well project

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 10/12/2011

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A $50 million oil and gas well off the Taranaki coast, once expected to contain millions worth of black gold, is almost certain to be capped and abandoned.

One year ago Shell Todd Oil Services expressed such confidence in the Ruru 1 exploration well they brought the drill ship Noble Discoverer out from Singapore to drill it.

Thought to cost close to $200,000 per day in operating and contract fees, the total drilling project had an estimated price tag of more than $50m.

That investment in the offshore project could now be for nothing with the Noble Discoverer departing Taranaki waters for Alaska early in the new year, leaving little time for it to complete the Ruru well.

"Should the Ruru well not be completed, it will be safely plugged and abandoned in line with strict Shell standards and New Zealand regulations," STOS general manager Rob Jager said yesterday. He said the early recall of the drill ship was a result of the long lead-times associated with working in the Arctic.

The ship's imminent departure brings to an end a project that never quite went as planned.

Arriving in late January the drill ship was expected to take two months to complete the 4000m well but by the time a storm hit and broke its moorings on April 26 it had still not reached its target depth.

One of the oldest drill ships in the world, the 45-year-old converted bulk carrier sustained minor damage in the storm but its drilling equipment took a beating and some crew members told the Taranaki Daily News the ship drifted dangerously close to the Maui A platform. During that storm it dropped tonnes of drilling equipment on the sea floor, equipment the ship owner Noble Drilling Corporation is still trying to recover.

Forced to winter at Port Taranaki and undertake repairs in June, a Maritime New Zealand investigation found the ship was operated appropriately during the storm and there were no ongoing safety issues with the vessel.

In September it left its spot beside the main breakwater and headed to Brisbane for its five yearly certification.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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