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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 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.”

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