Shell shuts in giant Gulf platform for well hookups

Shell announced Wednesday it had temporarily halted operations at its oldest tension-leg platform in the Gulf of Mexico as it nears the final stage of a $2.5 billion project to drain deep oil and gas reserves at the site.

The company said it began shutting in its Auger platform on Monday for about 78 days while it reconfigures the facility to tie in wells from its Cardamom field.

The project to tap Cardamom, first launched in June 2011 and slated to go online next year, is expected to produce 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day at its peak. That will add to 55,000 barrels of oil equivalent being produced daily from Auger.

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John Hollowell, Shell’s executive vice president for deep water in the Americas, said the project is the culmination of two technological breakthroughs, including the deepest, longest extended-reach well ever drilled from a platform in the Gulf. Advanced on-bottom seismic imaging also allowed the oil company to peer below a layer of salt to pinpoint the Cardamom field before marking a discovery there in 2009.

“Seismic technology helped us see it better,” Hollowell said in an interview, “and then we leveraged some drilling technology to set a record in terms of extended reach from a platform.”

By tying the Cardamom wells back to the older Auger facility, Hollowell said Shell is leveraging “existing infrastructure to increase oil and gas production in a less capital intensive way.”

The Cardamom field is located roughly 225 miles southwest of New Orleans.

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The project nears its final stages as Shell boosts its activity in the Gulf of Mexico, where it now has 11 rigs in operation (including seven floating facilities and four platforms). The company’s biggest oil platform, Olympus, just sailed away from Ingleside, Texas, en route to the company’s Mars B field.

Shell has contracted to use two more floating drilling units in the Gulf of Mexico. That, along with the arrival of Olympus, could bring Shell’s count to 14.