Australian Engineers want more input to floating LNG

A new report has found that while FLNG holds opportunities for local engineers, there are a number of roadblocks hampering its wider engagement.

Following
consultations with industry, academia and stakeholder groups, Engineers
Australia undertook a review of the technical, economic and workforce issues surrounding
the future of FLNG projects in Western Australia.

It found
while the engineering workforce in WA has a large number of skills directly
relevant to support the installation, commissioning, operations, maintenance,
ongoing development and eventual decommissioning of FLNG facilities – there were a number of issues stopping
them from getting involved in the lucrative industry.

Shell’s multi-billion dollar Prelude
FLNG will be the first structure of its kind anywhere in the world and is set
to be arrive off WA’s Kimberley coast in 2017.

It is possible that the
Prelude facility will be joined in coming years by Woodside’s proposed multiple
FLNG Browse development and an Exxon-Mobil/BHP Billiton FLNG in the Scarborough
field, giving a total of five possible facilities currently under
consideration, with the potential for others in future years.

This provides a mass off
opportunity for the local engineering workforce to be heavily engaged in FLNG.

“Leveraging the opportunities
offered by FLNG will not be straightforward,” the report warned.

Among the top issues was the
fact that the current fleet on FLNGs are being designed and constructed outside
of Australia resulting in a loss of potential design engineering and construction
jobs to the Australian labour market and a lost opportunity for the Australian
workforce to learn the fundamentals of the design and construction of these
facilities.

It was also found that recent onshore LNG trains such as Train Five of the Karratha
gas plant, Pluto, Gorgon and Wheatstone have been largely designed in modular
form overseas, driven by Australia’s high-costs and low quantities of skilled
and LNG-experienced Australian engineering personnel.

The report said the limited
number of fabrication yards in Australia capable of producing modules of
suitable size for a new greenfield LNG facility have also limited Australia’s
ability to compete.

“With the globalisation of
engineering design, it has become difficult for single countries to claim a competitive
edge over others,” the report said.

“Instead the expertise is held
by the global engineering companies who execute the design of specific forms of
process plant, with these companies sharing the work around their global skill pool
in a way that gives them the best commercial outcome for themselves and their
clients.

“Despite Australia’s track record
in significant oil and gas facilities, our relatively small local engineering
skill pool has meant Australia has struggled to establish itself as a centre
for large scale LNG engineering design of any forms of process plant.”

Engineers Australia has made
seven recommendations it hopes will open up the industry for local players.

It wants operators to more
clearly define what opportunities exist for local the engineering sector and
where possible quantify them.

“Organisations need to be
given opportunities by operators to fill some knowledge gaps and enable them to
offer the best services possible to the operators,” the report said.

The report has also called on
the government to encourage operators to buy locally and support R&D capability
building.

It also wants the government
to support, potentially in the form of a grant, to help utilise and develop the
engineering and research capability that is available in WA to the FLNG operators
and more widely.

Industry collaboration was
also flagged as a driver of addressing key challenges with expertise.

The report said that the
industry as a whole needs to “work to identify deficiencies and opportunities
in the current skills pool and to find ways to fill those gaps through development
of local personnel, through focussed education and where necessary through
targeted importation of skills”.

It said a research and
industry conference should be held every year to showcase research to industry and for
industry to advise researchers of their current needs.

Other initiatives flagged as important
centred around engineering houses increasing engagement with academia and initiating
research projects with local academic institutions.

The report also said it higher
education centres need to work with industry to translate academic research into
“industry speak” and produce industry relevant outcomes and produce industry
relevant graduates and postgraduates.

“If these hurdles can be overcome,
it is considered that Western Australian engineering will be able to position itself
to grow with the adoption of FLNG, including key world class R&D niche
areas and responses to local challenges such as met ocean conditions and remote
operations,” the report said.

“If these opportunities are
not grasped, however, the window of opportunity will close and the centre for
knowledge of the technology would move elsewhere.”