New Sullom Voe gas plant set to open a year late due to technical issues

BP’s new £60 million gas plant at Sullom Voe is likely to be about a year late in starting up with the system not expected to go live until “the summer months”. The cause of the delay in Project Aurora is not known but the original aim was to commission the new plant in August last year. Work on it began back in July 2008.

The oil company said this week its priority was to ensure the new plant works safely. A spokeswoman said construction was “nearing completion” and commissioning checks had now started. Once those stages are complete she said hydrocarbons could then be introduced into the system. “We’re still a couple of months away from that yet,” she told The Shetland Times.

She did not know of any specific cause for the delay other than the usual technical issues that need to be resolved along the way during a complex project. She said: “Obviously our priority will be to make sure that it is a safe and reliable operation when it starts up so we will take the time it needs to ensure that everything is in its right place and correct before we would proceed.”

Project Aurora involves the replacement of the terminal’s large three-column gas processing plant with a more compact and efficient single-column processing plant, most of which has been brought up to Shetland in modules to fit together.

The new system is intended to reduce the terminal’s running costs and cut its energy consumption by 30 per cent while helping get Sullom Voe in shape to remain open until at least 2030.

BP has said the new plant will remove about 68 tonnes of sulphur dioxide a year from the atmosphere, which would have been pumped out of the power station chimneys and the flare stacks.

The old plant was designed for Sullom Voe’s boom years when a vast amount of gas was coming ashore and gas tankers came and went all the time. In 1986 a total of 112 visited but that number had dwindled to just seven by 2005. Last year gas exports ceased altogether.

Once the new plant is operating it will run along with the old system for a few months while it is tested out. The old plant can then be dismantled along with the four formerly highly dangerous gas storage tanks and the loading system at Jetty 1.

The spokeswoman said the decommissioning work of old equipment would be phased over the course of several years.

The gas plant is entirely separate to Total’s gas plant which is about to be built on an unconnected site next to the terminal.

Meanwhile, speculation that BP was exceeding its permitted air pollution emissions at the terminal due to the recent increase in gas flaring has been dismissed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) which monitors the installation.

There have been claims that the terminal struggles to get rid of excess gas which has been coming ashore as a by-product of increased oil production offshore, which the terminal is contracted to handle.

Although tanker exports have ceased, gas is used to power the turbines in the terminal’s power station, operated by Fortum, which supplies some electricity to the Shetland grid. It is also pumped back offshore, including for use in enhancing dwindling oil production in the Magnus field.

In response to inquiries, Sepa declared that it did not have an issue with the recent increased gas flaring at Sullom Voe which it said was due to a period of inspection and maintenance of the old gas plant by BP. It said the increase in air pollution was “due to periodic inspection requirement and associated routine maintenance work on their process”.

BP’s spokeswoman confirmed that the flaring was unrelated to Project Aurora.

Sepa said BP had adhered to procedures. “The terminal management notified Sepa prior to the inspection and maintenance work beginning and advised us of the quantity and period of flaring. Sepa reviewed the submitted notification and is satisfied that the flared quantities were below the routine flaring limit set out in the installations permit and that they have carried out their regulatory duties in line with the requirements set out by Sepa.”

Sepa added that the maintenance work was completed last week and gas processing restarted. “As a result of the process settling there have been occasional flare bursts and some smoke. However, this is as expected and is also within the permit requirements and limits.”


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