The quietest oil rig ever to operate in Taranaki has been brought to town by a man equally at home setting up up rigs for noisy rock bands U2, Guns 'n Roses and the Rolling Stones.
For the last nine months Australian Shaun Hemming has lived and breathed Todd Energy's brand new $42 million onshore drilling rig aptly named Big Ben, which arrived by ship in New Plymouth on Saturday.
Designed specifically for work in Taranaki, the 450-tonne rig is quieter, more automated and, thanks to a unique paint job to suit local conditions, less visible than any rig to operate on land in New Zealand.
Making sure that it all comes together as it should will be Mr Hemming's job and with 30 rig builds to his name it's a reasonable bet the rig will be ready to go on schedule in 30 days.
"I started building tractors with my dad when I was 12 years old. It's all I have ever done. Building equipment and rigs all around the world," he said.
Those rigs weren't always the type that drilled for oil and gas. More than 20 years ago the dreadlocked Aussie was a roadie for the likes of U2, Sting, Guns ‘n Roses, Peter Gabriel and the Rolling Stones.
"It's not exciting as people think. You work 18 hours a day, rain, hail or snow," he said.
And while U2's Zooropa tour through Australia needed 52 articulated trucks, Big Ben the rig needed only 25 as well as 40 men and five cranes to unload it from the ship especially chartered from Rotterdam.
Comprised of 110 loads, the Bentec Model Euro Rig will be assembled at Port Taranaki over the next month.
Designed specifically for Todd Energy the rig is destined for Tikorangi's Mangahewa D field. With the ability to "walk" from one well site to another rig will help Todd reduce noise and road traffic to the site said chief executive Paul Moore.
"These are factors that the Tikorangi community, where our operations are located, has told us are important to them," he said.
With more power than previous rigs used by Todd, Mr Moore said they would be able to drill further and deeper than before, thereby reducing the number of well sites otherwise needed.
The arrival of the rig coincides with the establishment of a rig camp at the Mangahewa site. Rig staff are being encouraged to live on site during work rotations to increase safety compliance and minimise traffic in the area.
The surge in oil and gas exploration at Tikorangi in the last five years has give rise to sporadic tensions between exploration companies and residents who cite noise, light pollution and heavy traffic as their main concerns.
The most recent flashpoint was Greymouth Petroleum's Kowhai C site near the centre of the rural community. Despite widespread opposition, Greymouth received consent to drill up to four wells there in September.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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