Getting on with all there is to do in decommissioning of Tui oil field

Work is underway to remove the FPSO Umuroa as part of the decommissioning of the Tui Oil Field off the Taranaki coast.
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Work is underway to remove the FPSO Umuroa as part of the decommissioning of the Tui Oil Field off the Taranaki coast.

OPINION: It has now been over a year since the collapse of Tamarind Taranaki Ltd and the Crown assuming responsibility for the decommissioning of the Tui Oil Field and a lot has happened in that time.

Much of the work has taken place behind the scenes – fulfilling regulatory obligations, negotiating agreements, resourcing and recruiting the project team – but now things are moving up a gear.

Work is now well under way to demobilise, or remove, the FPSO Umuroa from Tui.

The FPSO is the floating production, storage and offloading vessel which was used - along with the wells and the equipment on the seafloor - to extract oil from the reservoir, store it and then transfer it to tankers for export.

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In November last year, a demobilisation agreement was signed with the, owners of the Umuroa, to arrange for the disconnection and removal of the Umuroa from Tui.

That work started in earnest in January, following the completion of an underwater survey of the infrastructure, and working with BWU we have completed the flushing of around 14km of flow lines that connect the wells to the Umuroa.

The next stage is the disconnection of the production lines from the Umuroa. These are the flow lines, umbilical cables and gas lift lines that connect the vessel to the field. The disconnection work started in late March. Once disconnected they will be lowered to the sea floor and then the mooring system that has kept the Umuroa anchored over the field will be detached.

This will allow the Umuroa to depart the field and this is expected to occur in May. All this work requires specialised vessels that must be brought in especially for the work. You may see them in the Port of Taranaki in the coming weeks.

Once the Umuroa has departed the next phase of the project is the removal of the subsea equipment. This will involve lifting the production lines and the mooring system from the sea floor for removal. At the same time various other pieces of subsea equipment will be picked up and taken away.

At this point the final phase of Tui decommissioning can be undertaken: the plugging and abandonment of the five production and three exploration wells on the field.

We’ve had a really encouraging response from potential suppliers to our recent request for registrations of interest for the next phases of work. Those responses are being evaluated and those shortlisted will then be invited to submit proposals. While the vessels and rigs required are of a type that are not available in New Zealand, we expect that in an undertaking of this size there will be multiple opportunities for Taranaki suppliers to seek ancillary contracts with the lead contractors.

Our target is to commence this work in the summer of 2021/22. This timeline will be subject to having the necessary consents and contracts in place to enable the work to start. If there are any unforeseen delays, we will retain the option to undertake the work in the following summer.

In all this work we are committed to working collaboratively in partnership with Māori in line with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The project is delighted to have recently signed a partnership agreement with Te Kāhui o Taranaki Trust to support engagement within Taranaki Iwi.

The agreement will assist in ensuring Taranaki Iwi’s cultural values and interests are recognised, understood and responded to throughout the decommissioning project. We look forward to working closely with them over the course of the project.

We have also been engaging directly with local business leaders such as the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce and we are grateful for the assistance of Venture Taranaki.

I would also like to recognise the support given us by the local oil and gas sector, from the suppliers and contractors who have helped us get to this point, to those companies who have offered us valuable support and advice.

We are well aware of the responsibility upon us to conduct New Zealand’s first offshore oil decommissioning project in a responsible manner.

We believe our plans will meet the approval of a very wide range of stakeholders: our intention is to fully remove all the subsea equipment from the sea floor and to plug and abandon the wells in accordance with good industry practice and in compliance with New Zealand regulations.

Let me close with a final reflection. When the Crown began planning and preparing for the decommissioning of Tui in early 2020 there was some criticism over the capability of a Government agency to carry out such a role.

I have to say that as project director, I’m delighted with the quality and range of experience that we have attracted to the project – both from within MBIE and from the industry – and I have every confidence that we have the skills, resources and commitment to do a great job.

There is a lot to do, and we are getting on with it. It will be a busy year!

- Lloyd Williams is the project director for the Tui oil field decommissioning.

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