Twinkle, twinkle, damaged drillship

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 05:00 11/05/2011
Noble Discoverer drillship
CAMERON BURNELL/Taranaki Daily News
NIGHT LIGHT: The drillship Noble Discoverer puts on a show off the New Plymouth coast.

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The $180,000-a-day drillship Noble Discoverer looks destined to spend the winter doing nothing more than providing a nightly light show in the waters off New Plymouth.

The veteran drillship was so badly damaged in a storm off the Taranaki coast that it will be unable to return to drilling operations any time soon.

Instead, it is likely to lie close to shore off New Plymouth while major repairs are carried out to on-board equipment, Shell Todd Oil Services confirmed yesterday.

While only minor damage happened to the vessel during the April 26 storm, other equipment such as the mooring system and drilling equipment were damaged when anchor lines snapped.

Replacement parts are being flown in from overseas.

Shell Todd had chartered the ship at between US$154,000 and US$158,000 (NZ$184,000 to NZ$189,000) a day to drill the Ruru-1 well 40 kilometres off the Taranaki coast. The company would not say yesterday whether it was continuing to pay the charter day rate.

Shell Todd general manager Rob Jager, New Plymouth, said investigations are under way to fully understand why the mooring lines failed and what needs to be done to prevent this in future.

"As safety is the first and foremost priority, and with winter substantially reducing the operating window, the vessel may not return to the Ruru well for some time," he said.

"There is therefore an opportunity for the Noble Discoverer contract holder to enable the vessel to be upgraded while it is in port."

While the presence of the vessel with its big drilling derrick so close to the New Plymouth shoreline is turning it into an unlikely tourist attraction, for Shell-Todd Oil Services it is a constant reminder that things have turned pear-shaped out at Ruru-1.

Noble Discoverer arrived in Taranaki waters in January to drill the single exploration well. The project was supposed to take up to two months, with the drillship then scheduled to head to Alaska to drill exploration wells within the Arctic Circle.

But it's now heading towards mid-May, and Ruru-1 has yet to reach target depth.

Energy industry sources say a series of technical problems at the site had delayed drilling anyway, and then just after Easter the big storm hit, which snapped some of the Noble Discoverer's anchor lines and forced the ship to drop its "riser", the pipe that contains the well's drill string.

The drillship with 114 people on board still rolled heavily in seven-metre seas, and this is understood to have caused further damage. This was behind the decision to bring the Noble Discoverer close to Port Taranaki for a full assessment of the ship's condition.

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Noble Discoverer is one of the oldest drillships in the world. Build in 1966 and originally a bulk carrier called the Matsuhiro Maru, in 1976 it was converted for the energy exploration operations and renamed Frontier Discoverer.

The name was changed again to Noble Discoverer last year when drilling company Frontier Drilling merged with fellow driller Noble Corporation.

Last year the vessel was at the centre of major controversy when Shell announced plans to use it to drill wells north of Alaska.

Critics slammed the potential greenhouse gas emissions it would emit, and this led to the vessel being diverted to New Zealand instead.

Yesterday's statement confirmed a plan is being developed to completely recover the riser system from the seabed so there will be no impact to the environment. But the Noble Discoverer will not be used for this recovery work, it added.

The statement said that in accordance with best industry practice, the Ruru well was safely closed-in before the storm hit and is in good condition.

- Taranaki Daily News

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