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Handling the Pressure

Off the eastern coast of India, Bechtel is managing a pioneering deepwater gas field development.

By Amy Mason Doan

At the bottom of the Indian Ocean, the world is dark. In oceanography, it’s known as the “midnight zone.” At a depth of 4,000 feet (over 1,200 meters), pressure is 117 times higher than the atmospheric pressure at the Earth’s surface. And temperatures aren’t far from freezing.

In such a forbidding underwater landscape, the Krishna Godavari Dhirubhai 6 (KG D6) natural gas development is taking shape in the Bay of Bengal. Bechtel is providing project management for Reliance Industries Ltd.’s $5.2 billion onshore and offshore development, India’s first foray into deepwater gas production. KG D6 will initially produce 2.8 billion cubic feet of gas per day, doubling gas supply for the country.

Conditions are challenging—and hardly limited to under the water. Thousands of people, numerous offshore construction vessels, and huge amounts of equipment have been deployed in record time.

“The tight time schedule—combined with the fact that it’s a busy, overheated market for offshore equipment manufacturers and installation contractors, and the pioneering nature of the project—have made this a challenge, even for an experienced team,” says Bechtel Project Manager Roberto Reichard.

In January 2006, Reliance awarded Bechtel the contract for project management consultancy, covering engineering, procurement, installation, and commissioning. Offshore work includes development of two fields, with at least 18 production wells connected to six subsea manifolds, one 340-ton (308-tonne) deepwater pipeline-end manifold, one umbilical distribution hub, multiple pipelines, umbilicals, and a control and riser platform. An onshore terminal 19 miles (31 kilometers) south of Kakinada will treat the produced gas. Reliance is also building an 861-mile (1,386-kilometer) pipeline to transport gas across to India’s west coast to supply major industrial and power plant users.

KG D6 was the largest natural gas discovery in the world in 2002, and subsequent exploration drilling has only increased reserve expectations. Initial development will center on wells located 22 to 25 miles (35 to 40 kilometers) off the coast, at water depths ranging from 2,625 to 3,937 feet (800 to 1,200 meters).

The schedule is aggressive, with first gas targeted for June 2008, less than 24 months after award of major EPC contracts. The fast-track timeline is further constricted by India’s monsoon seasons, which limit offshore work on the east coast to less than half the year.

Since KG D6 is India’s first deepwater gas development, the country lacked the related support infrastructure. And because the current energy development market is so active, with projects competing for scarce resources, the necessary drilling rigs, labor, and equipment are not always a phone call away.

“Just trying to get some of the standard parts right now, like subsea high-pressure valves, can be difficult,” says Scott Baker, project controls manager in Houston.

Rakesh Sahai/Black Star Photos
Wellheads are far beyond the reach of human divers, so construction and maintenance must be handled by underwater robots controlled by people on surface vessels. Parts must be right the first time, and they must work together perfectly subsea. So the massive engineering and procurement effort leaves no room for error. A comprehensive quality management program ensures a high standard of adherence to material specifications, constructability, and reliability. Shop inspectors witness the production and testing for all key components. The program has placed Bechtel representatives in 22 countries.

Engineering was performed in Australia, England, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, and the United States. The steel platform jacket was built in Louisiana, decks and piles in Dubai. Major subsea components are manufactured around the world, including in Norway, Scotland, Malaysia, and Thailand. Line pipe is rolled in Japan and Europe. The team is so widely dispersed that there is just a one-hour window each day when project-wide meetings can be held due to time zone differences. “Remote connectivity and clear communication are very important on this job,” says Baker.

The team’s global reach and experience handling complexity are two reasons Reliance selected Bechtel, which is also providing management services for the expansion of Reliance’s Jamnagar refinery in western India—a project initially built with Bechtel’s help.

As of January 2008, the onshore terminal for KG D6 was more than half finished with all major equipment in place. By May, major offshore installation was expected to be done, and later this year, subsea equipment, pipeline installation, the platform, and onshore terminal should be completed.

All 11 suction anchors, which will hold the production manifolds, deepwater pipeline end manifold, and subsea control equipment in place, have been set. The anchors are so massive they resemble grain silos, They are set into the sea floor with just a little over three feet (one meter) visible above the mud line once the water-mud slurry is sucked out with an ROV.

Charles Crowell/Black Star Photos
To get the job done, crews are working second and third shifts onshore and onboard primary vessels whose lyrical names Audacia, Express, Eclipse, Lorelay, and Tog Mor belie their rugged deepwater construction capabilities. More than 211 miles (340 kilometers) of line pipe for the field pipelines and flow lines have been delivered and coated, and more than 60 jumper spool connections will be installed under water to link wells, manifolds, and subsea pipelines.

Giant reels like small Ferris wheels are spooling out 53 miles (85 kilometers) of electro-hydraulic umbilicals and 37 miles (60 kilometers) of subsea power and signal umbilicals. Umbilicals supply the subsea system with its “nutrients”—electrical power, communications and control signals, chemicals, and hydraulic fluid. The umbilical lines are bundled inside one, semi-flexible sheath.

Pipelines and umbilicals travel under a river estuary for just over seven miles (11.6 kilometers), so a trench is being dredged to place them out of harm’s way beneath the restored river bottom.

A systems integration test, in which subsea structures are hooked up above ground as they will be when submerged, was successfully completed in Malaysia in January.

Reliance recently gave Bechtel a vote of confidence—and more work. In September the company announced that with Bechtel’s help, it is developing the first oil discovery in the KG deepwater basin, just 19 miles (30 kilometers) from the KG D6 project site.

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