ABB Completes First Major Inspection at Ichthys LNG Offshore Australia
Ichthys LNG, a US$45 billion project operated by Japanese joint venture INPEX, turned four last year, and with that milestone came the requirement for maintenance and testing its backbone of ABB designed and installed electrical system.
The month-long maintenance and testing exercise took place on the massive offshore central processing facility connected to a 59-meter-wide floating production storage and offloading vessel.
Nothing can be left to chance on a maintenance shutdown of offshore oil and gas infrastructure. The INPEX Ichthys LNG project off the north coast of Western Australia integrates subsea extraction, a massive offshore central processing facility (CPF) connected to a 59-meter-wide floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel, and an 890-kilometer pipeline to onshore processing in Darwin. It runs the motors that run the pumps that keep the pressure on the gas…and between scheduled shutdowns needs to work 24/7.
Last year, the first major maintenance and testing of ABB electrification equipment since Ichthys LNG began operating in 2018, was set to take 30+ days and required the full focus of contractors, personnel and equipment suppliers. Planning and reliable partners are crucial to completing necessary works within an agreed timeframe.
Jason Hicks, INPEX Shutdown Coordinator for the electrical and instrumentation equipment that forms the backbone of Ichthys LNG production, closely coordinated with ABB’s Electrification Service Project Manager and Field Service Manager Michael Hand for the maintenance and testing scope. They planned not only every step of the work to be carried out and the specialist expertise required but had a back-up team ready on land in case a deployed member fell ill. They identified contingencies and the psychology behind making their respective teams feel confident about the work ahead and at ease with one another.
“You really want to know that the vendor you partner with supports you,” says Hicks of INPEX’s decision to partner with ABB for “the shut”. With the platform and vessel more than 200 kilometers from land and 820 kilometers from the nearest port of Darwin, “We need to know that they can allocate the people and resources, that they have all their equipment and tooling sorted, that they get the importance of timely delivery to the vessel transporting equipment from port, and much more.”
No incidents? Not a coincidence
Planning for the shutdown began in 2021 and despite COVID restrictions was smoothly carried out mid-2022 without incident.
That might sound like an anti-climax – no dramas, no unexpected challenges to overcome? That’s exactly how Hicks likes it: “When you execute on schedule, it means everything’s been done according to the plan and you get safe, good quality outcomes,” he says, adding,
“When you start finding unexpected things, that’s when you can come unstuck.”
Inspections are required because although “all machinery has a warranty period,” says Michael Hand, “like cars, switchboards have moving mechanical parts and they have certain things that need to be ticked off to make sure that they do reach their expected lifespan of about 30 years.”
The role of Liam Ruane, Business Development Manager for ABB’s Electrification Service business in Western Australia, includes working to improve the life and cost of ownership of installed ABB electrical assets. He handled the tendering process for the shutdown and lauds the efforts of a whole ABB team of professionals behind the scenes to ensure INPEX requirements and expectations were met.
“The cost of downtime for Ichthys is extremely expensive,” notes Ruane, and major shutdowns for maintenance are only scheduled every four years, “so if we didn’t deliver on the entire scope during this shutdown window, it could put their operations in jeopardy for the coming three years”.
All necessary equipment and tooling left for Darwin a month before the planned shutdown and was shipped to the floating facility ahead of the crew’s arrival by helicopter. Carry-on baggage for the chopper flight was limited to seven kilos, which one passenger remarked, “is just enough for clothes and a toothbrush”!
Rehearsal ensures everyone knows their part
INPEX had also requested that all those deployed be briefed and ready to go when they landed offshore. A pre-shutdown workshop at which everyone sat with their respective combined INPEX /ABB teams, went through the scope of work, and made sure that each individual was totally across their role and responsibilities proved to be another key step in the recipe shutdown success.
Says Hand: “We believe it was a big contributor to the fact we had no high-risk incidents, and everyone was able to safely deliver the work.”
The facility was shut down for almost 35 days, to allow equipment to cool before commencement of the 28 days of maintenance.
Switchboard inspections, circuit board maintenance and relay testing were on the agenda, but if there was time at the end of planned blocks of work, people didn’t walk away. “On programs like this, we would normally just take note of any further work that is required, but given the guys were running slightly ahead of time, they were able to also do a lot of simple rectifications while they were there,” says Hand.
The next service on the electrical equipment that powers INPEX Ichthys is due in 2026. Both companies are also exploring the opportunities for interim support delivered by virtual reality goggles and via phone or computer tablet – ABB’s remote solutions that could save time, reduce carbon emissions generated by travel and offer immediate assistance from ABB’s global experts.
In the meantime, Hicks describes ABB’s offshore team as “exceptional”. He says their combination of work ethic and calm approach to the stop-start nature of waiting for particular areas to be isolated, so they were safe to work on, showed a great attitude and resilience to the rigors of the off-shore environment. “Our core crew gave really good feedback on ABB’s knowledge and performance, and said it gave them a great deal of confidence when they were reenergizing the equipment.”