The temporary living headquarters for the Pluto liquid natural gas project.
The temporary living headquarters for the Pluto liquid natural gas project.

The Pluto liquid natural gas (LNG) project is located in the Northern Carnarvon Basin, Western Australia about 190 km north-west of Karratha, one of Australia's largest LNG plants.

The A$12 billion project is Western Australia's first new LNG plant in more than 20 years. On completion, it is expected to produce 4.3 million tonnes of LNG per year, and is seen as the most significant step in Western Australia's gas industry since the development of the North-West Shelf venture in the 1980s.

The project is a joint venture between Woodside, the operator, Tokyo Gas and Kansai Electric. It is set to become the world's fastest-developed LNG project to date, from the discovery of the field in 2005 to the production of first gas in late 2010. The field is estimated to contain a total dry gas recoverable reserve volume of 4.4 trillion ft3, and Xena, the smaller of the two fields, has a reserve volume of 0.6 trillion ft3.

The initial phase of the project consists of an unmanned, remotely operated offshore platform in 85 m of water, connected to five subsea big-bore wells on the Pluto gas field. Gas will be piped to shore along a 180 km, 36 in pipeline to the new Burrup LNG Park, located between the North West Shelf Venture and Dampier Port.

Pumping expertise was required to assist with the transportation by sea of temporary living quarters to the site. The gauntlet was taken up by Coates Hire, based in Kwinana, WA. The massive prefabricated structure was to be transported by barge, which meant that contractors had to cater for the absence of ballast pumps – so Coates turned to SPP's Autoprime range, supplied by Airdraulic Birco Group, for the solution.

A number of elements had to be taken into consideration, such as the weight of the structure being loaded and the tidal movements. It was imperative that the barge remained at a constant level with the wharf to ensure the loading was done safely. Therefore the pumps with a very similar flow rate were used, so that all eight tanks could be filled at an identical rate. Reliability was also a major factor as downtime as mechanical failure could run into costs of thousands of dollars. In all, a total of 10 SPP Autoprime QI150M pumpsets were supplied, which included a couple of back up pumps as part of a contingency plan.

Gareth Bartholomew of Coates Hire commented, “With all of the considerations in mind, we decided to supply SPP's QI range – they met all of the essential requirements, and being trailer mounted they provided ease of movement on site.

Coates Hire introduced the QI150M pump into the fleet in 2007. It is suited to the hire industry due to its robustness, performance and mobility.

On the environmental front, Woodside is investing up to A$100 million in a programme to offset reservoir emissions from the Pluto field. The aim, it says, is to make Pluto one of the most environmentally efficient LNG plants in the world. The programme involves a A$25 million investment for mallee tree plantings in 2008 and 2009, with an option to undertake additional plantings for another three consecutive years.

The Pluto project also involves the largest marine monitoring programme of its kind in the world, which aims to minimise the impact on marine life resulting from dredging activities.