Helix vessel making a pit stop at port prior to kicking off oil field’s next decom phase

A specialist well Intervention vessel is expected to arrive in New Plymouth this week, where it will make a stop at Port Taranaki, prior to embarking on its new decommissioning assignment. This marks the start of Phase 3 for the decommissioning of an oil field offshore New Zealand.

Helix Energy Solutions’ Q7000 vessel; Source: Port Taranaki

Back in December 2019, Tamarind went into insolvency without any funding secured for the FPSO Umoroa and Tui oil field decommissioning and abandonment liabilities, leaving the vessel stranded on the field. As a result, New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) became responsible for the decommissioning of the Tui oil field, after the liquidation and receivership of Tamarind Taranaki.

The demobilisation phase of the Tui oil field decommissioning was almost complete in May 2021 after a successful disconnection of the FPSO Umoroa, which worked on the Tui field from 2007 until Tamarind terminated the contract in October 2019. As explained at the time, the last of the nine anchor chains of the FPSO were disconnected and the vessel was able to depart the field and New Zealand waters. The next phase of decommissioning was targeted to start in the summer of 2021/22.

To this end, New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment hired Shelf Subsea Services for the removal of the subsea infrastructure from the Tui oil field. Afterwards, a contract was handed out to Helix Energy Solutions for well abandonment, recovery of subsea trees and wellhead severance and recovery, as part of the third phase.

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In an update on Monday, 15 May 2023, the country’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment revealed that Helix Energy Solutions’ Q7000 semi-submersible vessel would be arriving to start Phase 3 of the decommissioning activities planned for the Tui field. The vessel will plug and abandon the wells across the field, which is expected to take around three months to complete. The Q7000 vessel will not be carrying out any new oil field activity during its time in New Zealand.

Lloyd Williams, MBIE’s Tui Project Director, commented: “This phase of the project has been in planning for over two years, so it’s great to see the Q7000 arrive in New Zealand waters, ready to undertake this important work. The well plugging and abandonment is the most substantive part of the Tui decommissioning project.

“It involves re-entering wells on the seafloor and then positioning cement plugs about 3,000 metres below the surface. In addition, we will remove any equipment on the wells from the seafloor. Over 50 per cent of the offshore crew of around 100 will be New Zealanders or Australians, and more than 20 local businesses are contracted to support the project.”

Following Phase 3, the Tui project is set to focus on removing the four mid-water arches, which is a residual task from Phase 2. This will be the final step in the Tui decommissioning project. On 3 May 2023, MBIE signed an agreement with Sapura Projects Pty Ltd, an Australian-based supplier of subsea services, for the work to be carried out in the coming summer period.

Wharehoka Wano, The Trust’s Tumuwhakarito (chief executive), remarked: “We welcome the Helix Q7000 to Taranaki as it marks the next important step of this project. It’s vitally important Taranaki Iwi and the hapū of Ngāti Kahumate, Ngāti Tara, Ngāti Haupoto and Ngāti Tuhekerangi continue to work closely with MBIE on this project. As kaitiaki, we ensure our taiao and important cultural resources are protected and enhanced for the next generations.”

In a separate statement, Port Taranaki confirmed that the third stage of work to decommission the Tui oil field would begin later in the week. Helix Energy Solutions’ Q7000 is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday, 16 May 2023, and will be in port for approximately a week to carry out a crew exchange and to load supplies for the campaign.

Once this has been done, the 2019-built well intervention vessel will head to the Tui field and start work on phase three of the decommissioning. Port Taranaki also provided berthing services and laydown facilities for the first two stages of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment-led decommissioning project.

Ross Dingle, Port Taranaki’s head of commercial, stated: “The well abandonment is the most important part of the project, so we’re very pleased to assist. It’s important to be clear that this vessel is here to decommission the field, not drill new wells. Dozens of workers and project staff will be joining the vessel in New Plymouth, so it works well for the vessel to come into port for the crew transfer and to load supplies before heading to the site.”

Moreover, Dingle highlighted that the Q7000, which is in transit from Perth, would come to port under its own steam and Port Taranaki would then provide pilotage and tug support to bring the vessel to the berth. The port is also working with the New Plymouth-headquartered energy consultancy and developer, Elemental Group, which is providing project management assistance for New Zealand operations to Helix.

Nick Jackson, Elemental Group director, who outlined that the company was assisting with procurement and managing the New Zealand companies needed for the project while providing logistics support and assisting with health and safety and environmental compliance, said: “All up, there will be a team of more than 100 on the Q7000, over half being Kiwis and Aussies in operations roles working alongside the Helix crew, as well as several specialist roles, such as wireline and cementing.

“We’re excited to be a part of the project. I worked on some of the original Tui exploration wells, so it’s nice to be involved in restoring the mauri of the area.”