Shell engineers and planners knew they faced a complex balancing task four years ago with the decision to produce the company’s new Cardamom oil and gas discovery in the Gulf of Mexico through the existing Auger platform rather than build a new one.
As John Hollowell, Executive Vice President for Deep Water, Upstream Americas, explained, “This is a great example of Shell using existing infrastructure to increase oil and gas production in a less capital intensive way and with reduced environmental footprint.” At its peak, Cardamom is expected to add 50 thousand barrels of oil equivalent per day in new production from Auger.
For that to happen new equipment had to be installed and older components – such as crew quarters and the helicopter landing pad – upgraded, removed or replaced. Auger was already producing over 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent daily – important production that had to be maintained, safely and reliably, during the work. It would be a job akin to refitting a cruise ship – moving cabins, restaurants, theatres – in the middle of a sea voyage, and doing it without disturbing the passengers, putting the ship out of balance or, most especially, making it heavier.
Auger was Shell’s first deep-water floating tension leg platform in the Gulf of Mexico. In the years since its 1994 installation, several projects added new production capacity, but also weight. By the time of the Cardamom discovery its 20,000 tons were the most its four columned hull could support. “This was a weight-neutral project from the start,” said Auger senior business advisor Patrick Luquire. “Every new kilogram brought onto the platform meant another kilogram had to come off.”
Preparing for Cardamom’s oil and gas production meant adding extensive new processing equipment, some of it in the form of large pre-built modules. Luquire said those installations were first carefully simulated on computers to assure the platform’s decks – about 100 meters square – remained level with the new loads. “I was out there for many installs,” he said, “and never detected a tilt. So our planning and execution was good.”
Luquire says Auger managers will to continue the refitting, painting and maintenance programs begun for the Cardamom addition, and expect the platform to keep producing for at least another fifteen years.