Parts for new platform on the move

Posted: Tuesday, May 02, 2000

Miami-based Forcenergy Inc. is setting the wheels in motion to install Cook Inlet's first new oil and gas platform since 1986. That could nearly double the inlet's oil production.

VECO Inc. built living quarters for the $35 million Osprey Platform in Anchorage, while Hyundai Heavy Industries built the deck and legs in South Korea. This week, workers in Anchorage are securing the 300-ton quarters to a barge for shipment to South Korea.

There, Hyundai will set them on the platform's deck, said Gary Carlson, Forcenergy vice president for Alaska operations. Then, it will ship the deck and legs to Port Graham for assembly. Carlson hopes to install the finished platform to Redoubt Shoal, near West Foreland in upper Cook Inlet, about July 9.

Forcenergy has used novel methods to cut the costs of developing its Redoubt Shoal prospect. Traditionally, Cook Inlet oil companies have used a jack-up or floating rig to explore, then removed that to build a production platform.

Instead of importing a jack-up rig, though, Forcenergy designed Osprey as an exploration platform. If the exploratory wells find sufficient oil and gas, Forcenergy will convert it for production. If they fail, Forcenergy will move Osprey to another exploration site.

Carlson said he does not even want to think about that possibility.

Forcenergy permit applications to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggest the Redoubt Shoal prospect could produce up to 25,000 barrels of oil and 4.3 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. That would be a huge boost to the inlet's present oil production of roughly 32,000 barrels per day.

However, Carlson said, Forcenergy will not know how big the reservoir is until it drills exploratory wells this summer.

The barge that carries the quarters should travel May 10 from Anchorage to Kachemak Bay. There, Dockwise, a Hyundai subsidiary, will load it onto the deck of a larger heavy-lift barge bound for South Korea.

"Their last job was in the Caribbean. They're through the canal. They're on their way," Carlson said.

In South Korea, Hyundai will fasten the quarters to the deck. It will set the deck on the smaller barge, then load that and the platform legs onto the heavy-lift barge. The heavy-lift barge should arrive in Port Graham, near the mouth of Kachemak Bay, about June 12, Carlson said.

In another cost-cutting measure, Forcenergy plans to skip the heavy barge-mounted crane usually used to assemble and install an offshore platform. Instead, it will use ballast and tides.

First, workers will ballast the heavy-lift barge, submerging its cargo deck to float off the platform legs and the smaller barge, still carrying the platform deck. Then, they will ballast the legs deeper in the water and float the smaller barge and deck between them. They will attach the deck to the legs.

Finally, they will tow the finished platform to Redoubt Shoal at high tide. When the tide falls, the legs will touch bottom, and workers will pull the barge free. Then, they will drive pilings through the legs, securing the platform to the bottom.

"We'll drive the piles, level the platform, cement the piles and demobilize the equipment in about a month," Carlson said. "Then, we'll drill the exploratory wells. If we pick up the rig in mid-August, we could be drilling by the end of September."

Forcenergy has permits to drill four exploratory wells, plus a fifth well to inject drilling muds and cuttings deep underground, for disposal. The first well will extend about 15,000 feet from the platform, Carlson said. It will reach not only down, but also about 6,000 feet to the side to find the hoped-for oil. The first well should take about three months to complete, he said.

Carlson has budgeted $5 million to $6 million for each well but said he hopes to bring costs down as Forcenergy gains experience.

If the exploratory wells find sufficient reserves, Forcenergy will build two undersea pipelines to carry the oil and gas 3.3 miles to Kustatan on the inlet's west shore. There, it will build a power plant and facilities to remove the "produced water" that comes out of the ground with the oil and gas. A third undersea pipeline will carry the produced water back to Osprey for disposal through the injection well.

Forcenergy also plans two 7.8-mile pipelines to carry natural gas and crude oil from Kustatan to Trading Bay. From there, it could sell gas through existing Cook Inlet gas lines and oil through the existing pipeline to the tanker terminal at Drift River.

Forcenergy still is applying for permits to convert Osprey to production, he said. If all goes well, Osprey could start production near the end of 2001.

Meanwhile, Forcenergy is discussing with state officials what to do if the exploratory wells fail to find producible oil and gas. While a jack-up rig could move to a new prospect at any water depth, the exploratory platform is restricted by the length of its legs, Carlson said. Osprey is built for a water depth of about 45 feet.

"Ideally, we'd have other prospects we could develop at the 45-foot range," he said.

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