Shell’s Olympus platform readies for Gulf of Mexico journey

It’s all coming together in a big way.

Houston-based Lone-star Energy Fabrication has loaded a 10-million-pound drilling structure onto a barge in Baytown, and the unit is about to begin a trip down the coast to Ingleside. There it will be mated with Royal Dutch Shell’s Olympus platform, which is under construction at Kiewit Corp.’s fabrication yard for work in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lonestar recently completed construction on the rig at its Cedar Port crossing dock and moved it to the 300-foot-long barge Maximus on Cedar Bayou.

The Maximus was originally scheduled to cast off on Thursday, but has been delayed until this weekend for the four-day voyage to Ingleside.

Lonestar spokesman Warren Moore said it’s taken two years and 575,000 man-hours to build the rig, which will give the Olympus drilling capability in addition to its production function. “The finished work is over
10 million pounds of steel Lonestar Energy fabricated, painted, and erected,” Moore said.

Awaiting its big new component is the Olympus hull, which recently arrived at Ingleside from Samsung Heavy Industry’s dock in South Korea. Kiewit will assemble the topside, installing the platform’s surface hardware onto the hull.

And while more construction and assembly lie ahead before the Olympus heads for Shell’s deep-water Mars field — that trip is scheduled for May — the drilling rig structure alone is a work of engineering art.

The rig, which will be mounted on the Olympus platform, stands 300 feet tall from floor to derrick crown, 122 feet long and 60 feet wide, with four levels that will house the drill floor and a range of pumps and other drilling equipment.

The project also includes five drilling support modules, which house generators, drilling mud storage facilities, electric switches and power supplies.

Shell owns the platform. Nabors Industries, the designer and general contractor, subcontracted with Lonestar to build the drilling module.

More than 100 pipe fitters, welders, electricians, crane operators and others have worked on the Lonestar project.

‘Good quality workers’

“It’s been a challenge to get good quality workers and keep them on site,” Moore said, noting that the company has offered perks such as quarterly barbecue luncheons to retain workers and keep morale high. “Structural welders and fitters can go almost anywhere in Texas and find a job,” Moore said.

Even small movements of the mammoth structure require intensive planning.

For one example, Lonestar had to make sure the soil where the drilling rig would rest prior to shipping would compact properly.

“It was a specialized recipe of dirt with a mixture of rock to ensure the ground would not settle and potentially cause the rig to fall over when the rig was lifted or rolled out onto the barge,” Moore said. More than 50 employees spent a week on the engineering, delivery and testing of the dirt to make sure that it met standards.

Lonestar built much of the unit at its main fabrication facility about three miles away from the Cedar Port crossing dock.

But even the drilling support modules, at 50 feet, were too tall to fit under power lines on the road to the barge landing. The company worked with Centerpoint Energy to raise the lines to allow the structure, hauled by specialized Goldhofer 138-wheel heavy-haul transport trailers, to pass underneath.

On time

But even with these challenges, the project has come in on time.

“My primary concern is the timelines and the quality product we are going to put out for our customers,” said Lonestar President Brian Shanklin. “If I say we are going to make it by a certain timeline, we are going to do everything we can to deliver by the timelines with the specifications.”

In May, Shell plans to sail the completed Olympus platform out to the Mars B development to join the Mars platform, which has been operating since 1996. The new platform is part of an effort to extend the development’s production life.

The Olympus will be in 3,000 feet of water 130 miles south of New Orleans. Shell owns
71.5 percent and BP owns 28.5 percent of the development.

The rig is the largest project so far for Lonestar, a 3-year-old company that already has other major drilling construction projects in the pipeline, including rigs for a Chevron platform and for Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Pemex.

“It’s the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on because it is so demanding,” said Mario Salinas, Lonestar’s vice president of operations, noting that each step had to pass quality control standards of Lonestar, Nabors and Shell. “To see it come to fruition, it’s something special.”