Expanding Tamar, preparing for Leviathan: A ministerial dream come true

National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz takes reporters to a drilling rig that’s moving Israel’s natural gas industry forward.

December 3, 2016 17:19
ABOARD THE ‘Atwood Advantage’ on November 22.

ABOARD THE ‘Atwood Advantage’ on November 22.. (photo credit: SHARON UDASIN)

On a still-summery late-November Tuesday, blue waves lapped at the sides of the 10,000 square meter deep-water drilling rig Atwood Advantage, some 95 kilometers off the coast of Haifa.

Arriving to the eastern Mediterranean about three years late due to bureaucratic squabbles in Israel’s natural gas sector, the Atwood Advantage was in the midst of drilling the Tamar 8 well – an additional outlet into a 282-billion-cubic-meter reservoir that has been flowing to Israel’s shores since March 2013 – on behalf of Noble Energy.

“For me, the fact that the ship is here is a dream,” said National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, who was touring the drilling rig last week with a group of ministry officials and reporters.

The ship arrived on October 21 after a stint in the Gulf of Mexico, where it also worked for Noble Energy, explained James Lanteigne, operations manager for Atwood Oceanics, the rig’s owner.

After leaving a South Korean factory in 2013, the new ship was supposed to head straight to Israel, but due to disputes that had been rattling the country’s natural gas sector, the vessel first spent some time in the US.

By October 23, only two days after the ship’s arrival in the eastern Mediterranean, its crew had begun drilling the Tamar 8 well, said Myles Barrett, drilling engineering manager for Noble Energy.

As of the visit to the ship on November 22, the crew had drilled 3,507 meters down. The target depth is about 5,100 m., of which some 70% is rock, Lanteigne explained.

The aim, according to Todd Fogg, the ship’s superintendent, is to reach that depth in approximately one month’s time. The Atwood Advantage will then seal the well until the client is ready to make use of it, Fogg explained.

The ship’s next destination, the 613-b.c.m. Leviathan basin, is now awaiting development following a year’s worth of negotiations between the government and the gas companies, talks that ultimately concluded in a compromise “gas outline.”

Houston-based Noble Energy and two Delek Group subsidiaries – Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration – are the majority shareholders in both the Tamar and Leviathan basins. According to the gas outline, however, they must sell the majority of their shares in the Tamar reservoir within six years to ensure competition in the country’s gas sector. The companies have already sold the neighboring, much smaller Karish and Tanin reservoirs, which was also a requirement of the outline.

Despite the numerous delays that plagued the country’s natural gas sector in recent years, on that late November day aboard the Atwood Advantage, the sector was moving forward.

DURING THE TOUR of the ship, Barrett said the crew reached the base of the salt-rock layer and would install the components necessary to achieve gas flow in about 45 days.

Production rates would be established farther along in the process, he explained. The drill operates in sections, which each getting smaller in diameter down along the chain.

“It’s like a telescope – it gets smaller and smaller and smaller,” he said.

As the Atwood Advantage team drills and removes small cuttings from the hole, mud comes up with each section, Barrett continued.

Until the Tamar reservoir partners are ready to begin operating the Tamar 8 well – which will be connected to an existing pipeline at nearby Tamar 3 – the team will pump the mud downward, as the mud is heavier than pressure from the gas and can thereby prevent the gas from escaping until the well is ready for production.

About three to four weeks after the Tamar 8 completion mechanism has been installed, gas will be available to flow from the well, Barrett added.

On the ship’s bridge, Capt. Shawn Jones showed reporters a series of active computers with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea in the background.

“We can see anything that happens from here on the bridge,” Jones said.

The Atwood Advantage, he explained, is equipped with a dynamically positioned control system, allowing the vessel to achieve extreme – and automated – precision.

“We can stay within a decimeter of where we want to be,” he stated.

As far as security is concerned, Jones said the vessel was in constant touch with naval patrol boats circulating in the area, although there has been no permanent naval presence.

The ship comes equipped with two sub-sea blowout preventers, one at the well head and a spare at surface, Fogg said. The blowout preventers, whose performance is tested regularly, can close around the pipe and seal the well entirely in case of emergency, Barrett added.

The crew of the Atwood Advantage numbers approximately 160 and comes from a wide array of countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Scotland, the Philippines, Croatia, Romania and Italy, said Lanteigne, the operations manager. The men – and a few women – generally spend 28 consecutive days on board and 28 days at home, wherever around the world home might be.

“They make it feel like home, no doubt,” Lanteigne continued. “For holidays and special occasions, they’ll have a [festive] meal.”

Of particular note was the recent Halloween celebration the team enjoyed on board.

“They carved some melons to look like pumpkins, and they had a barbecue on B-Deck,” Lanteigne said, adding that the catering staff also made them a small haunted house.

MEETING CREW MEMBERS actively operating the Atwood Advantage, Steinitz and his team of ministry officials expressed satisfaction that the drilling work was at long last taking place. Nonetheless, the minister noted that there were only three gas platforms or boats operating off Israel’s shores: the Atwood Advantage, the Tamar drilling platform and a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) supplying liquefied natural gas (LNG) when needed.

“I hope that in two to three years, there will be six or seven platforms and boats,” Steinitz said, noting that such facilities would help bring about export projects to places like Turkey and Egypt.

“Suddenly, we are an energy player,” he added.

In February, the ship is supposed to move on to drilling at Leviathan.

Steinitz told The Jerusalem Post that his outlook on the gas sector was now starkly different from that of just a year or two ago, when, due to ongoing disputes between the government and the gas companies, doubts existed as to whether Tamar would be expanded, and the Leviathan, Karish and Tanin reservoirs developed at all. These disputes made the Atwood Advantage, which was supposed to come directly from the South Korean shipyard to the Mediterranean, change its course.

“Instead, it went for three years to the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

Steinitz stressed his certainty that the ship would, in fact, move to Leviathan on schedule upon concluding operations at Tamar. The companies, he explained, would not bring over such a huge ship simply for the enlargement of Tamar.

“For me, it is a dream come true,” he said. “A year-and-a-half ago, it looked like a fantasy.”

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