The accommodation for workers who will build Total’s gas terminal is more like a hotel than a camp – a far cry from the wooden huts inhabited by the men who made Sullom Voe in the 1970s.
The high-quality Sella Ness accommodation complex for 800 workers was officially opened this morning by Britain’s 26th richest man – the billionaire Ayman Asfari, head of oil services company Petrofac which is contracted to provide the gas plant.
The job of cutting the ceremonial ribbon actually fell to the chairman of Total Holdings, Patrice de Viviès, who Mr Asfari called forward from the crowd of invited guests to do the honour.
Petrofac had bussed in scores of representatives of local organisations and the oil industry for a light breakfast and Champagne reception and a guided tour of the two-storey complex, which is not quite finished. Petrofac has not disclosed the building’s cost.
As well as a spacious foyer and hotel-style reception desk, the lower floor of the timber-clad amenity building contains the canteen for meal times.
Upstairs the workers can make use of the large Tammie Norie bar with its pool tables. Next door is a fitness room crammed with dozens of expensive running and weight-lifting machines.
Down a corridor at the back are the bedrooms, made from prefabricated and multi-coloured modules. The two-bunk versions have a roomy shower and en-suite toilet, flat-screen TV and individual blackout curtains to give each worker some privacy. Outside there is a small artificial-turf multi-court with goals which may turn out to be rather too wide for the size of the pitch!
It is not often that a businessman of Mr Asfari’s stature visits Shetland. Originally from Syria, he built up Petrofac from small beginnings after buying it in 2001. He is said by rich people’s list Forbes to be worth £1.7 billion, six places above author JK Rowling in the UK list. He has a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean and a private jet.
He had arrived in Shetland on Thursday and took in some of the Tall Ships celebrations in Lerwick, which he said was “a fantastic event”. He told guests at the reception that he had been through Shetland many times, at Sumburgh and Scatsta airports, but this was the first time he had spent any time in the islands.
The Total gas plant is Petrofac’s first major development onshore in the UK, although the company has now been operating for 30 years. It has been around Shetland for years in support of its offshore operations and Mr Asfari said it was good to now have a presence in the islands.
After thanking Total and Dong, the partners in the Lagan-Tormore gas field west of Shetland, Mr Asfari singled out young Shetland woman Morgan Sales for a mention. She has recently joined the company and had been telling him about the measures being taken in the gas plant project to protect the environment.
Workers are due to move into the new accommodation block next month, according to Petrofac’s engineering and operation project director Alex Hosie.
He said construction of the actual gas plant across the water behind Sullom Voe will start in earnest in October and the steel modules will start arriving from Kuwait early next year. Meanwhile, sub-contractor Morrison Construction is laying the concrete foundations.
Petrofac’s offshore engineering and operations managing director Bill Dunnett, from Thurso, said he was very proud of the gas plant project and what had been achieved already with completion of the first phase.
He remembered vividly the Sullom Voe project when it was in full flight. “It was a legendary build project and operation,” he said, and had proved to be a great source of income for Shetland.
He hoped the gas plant would be of major benefit too. The accommodation camp was only started in January, he said, but had been built to a high quality – a standard Petrofac intends to maintain throughout its whole project.
A nostalgic council convener Sandy Cluness told reporters the day’s event reminded him very much of the opening of Sullom Voe Terminal back in 1981.
“The feeling is similar,” Mr Cluness said. “We’re on the edge of a new experience and I’m sure it is going to be good for Shetland as a whole.”
Afterwards the opening the guests were whisked off to Lerwick for lunch onboard the Dutch tall ship Gulden Leeuw which is catering for several executive receptions during its visit to Shetland.