Energy giant pushes gas barrow

BARROW Island has been placed firmly under the spotlight following ChevronTexaco’s proposal to the WA Government to use the island in the development of the Gorgon gas reserves.

ChevronTexaco has been hosting a series of visits to Barrow, a producing oilfield, ahead of next year’s release of the results of a strategic environmental, social and economic review of the island’s additional use.

The recent visitor list comprises Federal and State politicians, the Conservation Commission of WA, the Department of Mineral and Petroleum Resources, CALM, the Environmental Protection Authority, World Wide Fund For Nature, and various industry organisations.

Plans for Barrow, which also is a class-A nature reserve, include not only a gas processing facility – the first to be fed exclusively from a comparatively safe and cost effective sub-sea gathering system – but a possible gas-to-liquids plant to be owned and operated by Sasol Chevron.

Hence the State Government has directed the EPA to co-ordinate the environmental part of the review and the Conservation Commission to advise on nature reserve matters, while the DMPR will co-ordinate the social, economic and strategic aspects.

The Gorgon partners are co-ordinating all the studies, which include the field reconnaissance surveys, interviews, modelling and desktop reviews.

Alternative sites are also under consideration by the Government, including the Maitland area.

However the preference of ChevronTexaco and partners Shell and ExxonMobil is clearly for Barrow, with the 12-15 per cent carbon dioxide content of the gas to be reinjected into aquifers two kilometres beneath the island, subject to ongoing research.

Barrow is 60 kilometres off the north-west coast and Gorgon a further 70 kilometres out to sea.

ChevronTexaco is pointing to 40 years of successful island con-servation despite an oilfield development comprising 900 wells and producing a daily 50,000 barrels at its peak.

Operations have not disturbed more than a combined 5 per cent of the island, ChevronTexaco says, and its intentions for the new development are to keep this proportion intact.

Of Barrow’s 23,000 hectares, the joint venture partners plan an initial plant that would occupy 300 hectares.

Current operational use of the island is 650 hectares.

Goods are brought in by barge and air and there is no tourist access.

One thousand tankers have been loaded with 300 million barrels of oil, without incident the company says, from a line extending 10 kilometres out to sea.

ChevronTexaco’s proposal also represents a commitment to commercialise Gorgon gas, discovered in 1980, and now proven at a certified 13 trillion cubic feet, in an average 200-metre water depth.

Estimated reserves for the Greater Gorgon areas are currently at 40 trillion cubic feet.

Plans to proceed in the late 1990s, taking the gas to an onshore two-LNG train development near Karratha, were put on ice in response to the Asian economic downturn.

While some industry onlookers remain sceptical, the joint venture partners are now confident of supplying a mix of increasing market demand not only in Asia, but also in North America and Australia.

“We are in a very strong competitive market,” Gorgon Area Gas general manager Paul Oen said.

“We are competing with Indonesia and the Middle East for market share, in LNG in particular.”

Seven wells have been drilled in the Greater Gorgon area since 1999, with five new gas fields discovered.

“This is a regionally significant world-class undeveloped resource base,” Mr Oen said.

Both the WA and Federal Governments are aware of the long-term export potential of the Greater Gorgon area, and the development has been awarded special project status.

Barrow Island has been a class-A reserve since 1910 and a producing oilfield since 1967, originally under the operatorship of WAPET (Western Australian Petroleum Pty Ltd).

Minor pearling occurred around the island a century ago, but the island has been used for no other known purpose, including Indigenous settlement, for an estimated 8,000 years.

The Barrow-1 well was drilled in 1963. The 450 remaining operational wells are producing 9,000 barrels of oil daily.

More oil is to be had and production is expected to continue for a further 20 years.

ChevronTexaco, which operates the Barrow Island oil field on behalf of partners Santos and ExxonMobil, also produces oil from nearby Thevenard Island.

Operations are governed by at least six legislative acts and schedules.

The ESE review is planned for release in the first quarter of next year, to be followed by a six-week public comment period.

Last month ChevronTexaco was awarded a World Oil magazine ‘next generation’ award for its Barrow Island quarantine procedures and environmental management.

p Susan Bower toured Barrow Island courtesy of ChevronTexaco.


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