Oil news - plans for next Sea Lion Phase

By Peter Young

PREMIER OIL held a briefing in the Narrows Bar last Thursday to announce the plans for consultation on the Sea Lion Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Representing Premier Oil, Country Manager Tim Martin introduced his team and briefed the audience on the plans for the next phase of the Sea Lion Project.

As part of the preparation for exploiting the field, Premier is required to submit an EIA to Falkland Islands Government (FIG) and seek Executive Council (Exco) approval to proceed.
The team will shortly be consulting numerous stakeholders, including bodies such as Falklands Conservation, as well as the general public in forums such as this one.  It is expected that the assessment will be submitted towards the end of this calendar year.

Dr Paul Brickle and others from SAERI (South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute), will be consulting for Premier to prepare the EIA. Also engaged as a consultant  on local ecology is Grant Munro.

Mr Martin said Premier was having another consultation as there had been significant changes to the project and the oil industry since the previous consultation in 2014, not least the halving of the price of crude oil. This had caused a re-examination of the economics of the whole Sea Lion project.

There would now be a phased implementation which will include:-
• 20 wells, rather than 33, are now planned; 
•  the productive life of the field is now reckoned to be 20, rather than 25, years; 
• a Floating Production, Storage and Offloading vessel (FPSO) would be used, rather than a Tension Leg Platform (TLP); and
• the transfer of oil is now planned to be carried out in the more sheltered waters of Berkeley Sound.

Mr Martin emphasised that Premier Oil would adhere to the highest possible standards concerning Health, Safety and Environmental impact, often exceeding in-country requirements in these areas.

The choice of Berkeley Sound was made after extensive consultation with the Government and after considering over 30 possible sites around the Falklands.  A detailed operational and environmental assessment showed that Berkeley Sound was the most appropriate location mainly because of ease of navigation and proximity to Stanley.

Marine Advisor George Franklin gave the audience a detailed, step-by-step, description of the process of transferring the oil from a shuttle tanker to a purchaser’s tanker. This transfer will take between 24 and 48 hours and will only take place if the weather and sea conditions are within operational limits. An inshore transfer operation will take place about every 13 days, for the first few years of production and then about every 46 days for about 10 years of production. The tanker shuttling between the Sea Lion FPSO and Berkeley Sound is classed as a ‘Suezmax’, with a capacity of 1,000,000 barrels of oil, roughly double the capacity of the FPSO.

It is planned to have qualified pilots guiding both the shuttle tanker and the receiving tanker when entering, and manoeuvring, in Berkeley Sound. A tug will also be in use to assist the receiving tanker in and out of the Sound. The tankers will moor to a large (12 metre diameter) buoy, and there will be a large exclusion zone around the buoy to prevent interference from other vessels with the transfer operation.

Mr Franklin said this type of transfer was common across the globe. He also described the actions that would be taken in the unlikely event of a spillage. He explained that the crude oil had a high wax content, and would solidify after coming into contact with the sea. For this reason, dispersants would not be used during a spillage, but booms attached to support vessels (which would always be in attendance) would collect any spillage before it reached land or dispersed further.

Premier Oil would have an internationally-recognised Tiered response through an agreed Oil Spill Contingency Plan approved by FIG.

Senior Environmental Manager, Mike Mason described the onshore impact of the Sea Lion development. It is intended to submit planning permission to use the Temporary Dock Facility, as before.  Similarly, subject to planning approval, there will be lay down facilities in the Gordon Lines area which will be about three times the size of those required for the exploration rig phase last year.

There will also need to be accommodation for offshore and onshore workers, some of whom will be temporary specialists, while others will be in transit and yet others may be here for a number of years. About 30 people would be working in the Premier Oil office in Stanley.

In response to a question from the audience about the likely number of families with children possibly impacting the school system, Mr Mason replied that Premier hoped that many of the office-based team would be local people, who would already have children at school or plans would be already made for them. But, as a school governor of 17 years, he appreciated the concerns and the need for good planning in these matters.

The peak accommodation requirement would be for an estimated 270 people at a given time. This would be during the drilling and installation of offshore infrastructure, about 18 months after the project is given the go-ahead. So it is some years away.

During the steady state production phase, the maximum number of personnel requiring onshore accommodation drops to 100.

Other questions from the audience included the possible impact on whale-watching tours; the impact on other vessels using Berkeley Sound; where international response teams would be coming from; and what would be the impact of another oil price fall?

 Peter Young