Safety focus sets GV apart

Located 62km off the north-west coast, 68km from Onslow, the Griffin Venture is a decade old. Alison Birrane reports on the ground-breaking oil and gas development.


FROM the relative safety of the deck, just after dark, a small delegation of visitors watches intently as several massive sharks circle and feed on fish that have been attracted by the light.

This remarkable display is observed not from a wildlife platform, but from the Griffin Venture – a disconnectable Floating Production, Storage and Offloading Facility (FPSO) – that is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month.

The abundance of ocean fauna belies the fact that the Griffin Venture, or GV as it is known, is located in the oil-and-gas-rich North West Shelf – in 130 metres of water, 62 kilometres off the coast and 68km from the nearest town, Onslow (see graphic, above).

One could be forgiven for thinking such an industrial setting is anathema to the proliferation and survival of native species, but the GV has enjoyed an excellent safety record during its operation thanks to the strict standards now common in the oil and gas industry.

The first FPSO in Australia to export gas to shore by pipeline, the GV was a $A720 million project that, when it was commissioned, was the largest crude oil development since the Fortescue field was commissioned in the Bass Strait.

“The Griffin Venture operation is one of BHP Billiton Petroleum’s success stories. It has and still is enjoying excellent production and safety records whilst at the same time serving as a training ground to supply operators and management staff to other BHP Billiton Petroleum operations,” said Andy Oliver, Australian operations leader.

Currently there are six trainee operators from Trinidad/Tobago working in the Australia operated asset team, which is based in Perth.

The vessel itself was an innovation when it was first commissioned. Custom built in South Korea at a cost of $A229 million, it incorporated the latest technology of the time, including an innovative riser that the vessel can rotate 360 degrees around.

The riser, at a weight of 1,000 tonnes, is connected to the nine producing wells by flexible flow lines.

In cyclone season, if a threat is imminent, the GV can disconnect from the riser and sail out of harm’s way. The vessels can then later reconnect using a winch to lift the riser into position.

During its lifetime the vessel has undergone two major refits in Fremantle.

The first was in 1995 during a shutdown to repair some of the sub-sea flowlines and upgrade the seawater utility system. The second refit was in 1997 when accommodation capacity was increased from 40 to 63 people. An upgrade to the product offloading system and ballast water pumps was also completed.

At a length of 240 metres, the double-hulled Griffin Venture handles both oil and gas, which are processed on board.

The oil is stored on board in cargo tanks until it is offloaded to shuttle tankers via a floating flow line with the production schedule, while the gas is exported to shore via an underwater pipeline that lies on the seabed directly into the Dampier to Bunbury Natural Gas Pipeline.

Making its first gas sale in June 1994, the project, which brought the Griffin, Chinook and Scindian fields into production is a joint venture between BHP Billiton Petroleum (45 per cent), Mobil Exploration and Producing Australia Pty Ltd (35 per cent) and Inpex Alpha Ltd (20 per cent).

The operator of the GV remains BHP Billiton Petroleum and it is one of just three FPSOs that are operated off the Western Australian coast.

Reaching a peak daily rate of 80,000 barrels a day of light crude oil – ahead of schedule – the GV joint venture partner recouped its costs within 14 months of commencing operation. It is now producing between 13,000 and 20,000 barrels a day.

To date, 287 tankers have offloaded more than 150 million barrels of oil from the GV. Staff have kept the name and details of each vessel listed on the inside of a cabinet inside the central control room – perhaps for nostalgia rather than as a matter of record, as the information no doubt is kept in computerised production records.

The Griffin, Chinook and Scindian fields are anticipated to cease production in 2010 at 170.48 million barrels (27.09 million cubic metres), however a spokesperson for BHP Billiton said that further opportunities, which are yet to be confirmed, may extend that date.

BHP Billiton is Australia’s largest oil and gas producer and is ranked eighth globally. The diversified resources group turned over $US3.26 billion in the 2003 financial year and has an average daily production of 334,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

In the 2003 financial year, the company’s petroleum division accounted for 34 per cent EBIT or $US1.178 billion.

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