Ocean of opportunities

​​​​​​Woodside has been eagerly awaiting arrival of the Siem Thiima platform supply vessel, and the waiting ended when it sailed into the King Bay Supply Base to fuel up with LNG – and became the first vessel in Australia able to be powered by LNG. ​

Is there a better way to make an entrance than to help the business pass significant milestones from day one? That was marine project manager John McConnell’s approach as he posed the question: “Why not set a few records?” And this is exactly what platform support vessel (PSV) Siem Thiima accomplished when it sailed into the King Bay Supply Facility (KBSF) and began its operations at the start of 2017. 

The brand new addition to Woodside’s integrated fleet is not only Australia’s first PSV capable of running its engines on both liquefied natural gas (LNG) and diesel, but also the first vessel fuelled with LNG anywhere in Australia. 

Thiima’s arrival has been awaited with keen anticipation at Woodside. Work on the project began in mid-2014, when the company embarked on its voyage to transform Australia’s maritime industry. A five-year charter of Siem Thiima from Siem Offshore was signed in April 2016. So far, the success of the endeavour has been a result of strong collaboration both internally and externally.  “It’s amazing what a group of likeminded and driven individuals can achieve,” says John. “From Woodside’s health and safety, contracting, and marine teams to the ship’s builders and operators – everyone played a part. “Each stage of the project provided us with new and unique challenges, and we worked closely with other parties to resolve them.” 

The lack of LNG loading facilities suitable for vessels smaller than LNG cargo ships was just one of the challenges. “But we didn’t let that stop us,” says John. “We have worked with a small LNG distributor on designing a manifold that allows us to fuel the Thiima at KBSF, straight from an LNG truck. “This meant that we could accelerate the project and carry on without needing dedicated facilities to be constructed.” 

The journey’s next key milestones include a staggered conversion of Woodside’s integrated fleet and rapid development of a LNG supply chain to fuel that fleet with gas from Pluto. “Running our fleet on LNG makes sense not just because it is our product, but because it is cost competitive and more sustainable compared to traditional marine fuels,” explains marine manager Rob Duncanson.  LNG has carbon emissions up to 25% less than diesel. Moreover, it emits almost no sulphur or particulates. Additionally, the difference in price between traditional and LNG-fuelled vessels is shrinking. “In other words,” notes Rob, “cleaner and cheaper marine fuel is within our reach and we are making a statement about it by introducing LNG vessels to our fleet.” 

​​Rob also points out that stricter sulphur emission restrictions are being implemented across the globe by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) at a faster rate than the industry previously expected. “This is actually good news for us as we are ahead of the pack,” he declares. “We have been preparing for years and are ready for the change, but this is merely the start. “An ocean of opportunities awaits and synergies are already emerging across the business.”  Woodside is setting up to provide facilities at Pluto to provide LNG for these kinds of opportunities.

Currently in the planning phase, it will allow Woodside to deliver LNG in the Pilbara by truck. “The benefits are two-fold,” says opportunity manager Craig Jennings. “It will provide the LNG supply for our marine fleet as it is converted to clean LNG fuel over the next few years. “It will also open the door to local industries making the transition from diesel to LNG.” 

Close to three billion litres of diesel are used in the Pilbara every year. The mining industry’s diesel-powered trucks, locomotives and power stations consume much of this energy, and the ability for this to be powered by LNG is becoming reality. “Major manufacturers are proving up the ability to run heavy equipment on LNG, providing a compelling option for potential customers to reduce their operating costs and emissions by using Woodside’s gas instead of diesel,” Craig explains. “Woodside’s step in making the product available brings significant opportunities to industry in the Pilbara.”

More opportunities can be found in the major Pilbara ports of Dampier and Port Hedland, the largest bulk export ports in the world, situated just a short cruise away from the Pluto LNG plant. Earlier this year, following 10 months of preparations and negotiations, Woodside joined forces with three of Western Australia’s iron ore giants to explore the viability of LNG as fuel for iron ore ships. The group, backed by some of Asia’s shipping and research giants, will focus on the largest classes of bulk cargo ships operating on the iron ore trade route between Australia and China, and how LNG could displace the five billion litres of heavy fuel oil consumed every year shipping iron ore from the Pilbara. This will enable the realisation of the "Green Corridor" between North West Australia and China. 

“Woodside is enabling the next step in the journey to fully utilising the potential of LNG,” said chief operations officer (COO) Mike Utsler at the Thiima’s official naming ceremony in Fremantle. That event, held in February, was an opportunity for Woodside’s Board of Directors and executives to see the vessel first hand. “We are not only driving an important change in Australia’s maritime fuel industry but are also on the brink of creating a completely new market, right in our backyard,” Mike notes. The COO considers the successful introduction of the Thiima to the company’s operations a key milestone. “In true Woodside spirit, we showed our investors and potential customers that LNG as marine fuel is possible and we are already doing it ourselves,” he says. “This is an outstanding example of our company’s drive to keep improving, and it’s just the start. “Full steam ahead!”​

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Trunkline Q1 2017