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Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Shell set to build world's biggest floating structure

The Engineer
July 4, 2011

Shell’s engineers are embarking on a new project to build the world’s largest floating structure, which will change the way gas is produced.

A new type of vessel will soon be seen on the high seas. It will dwarf the largest aircraft carrier; even the biggest container ships will look like motor launches alongside it. Floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facilities will be so big that they’ll put pretty much every man-made structure barring the very largest super skyscrapers into the shade.Currently in the planning stages, the vessels are Shell’s latest tool for one of the oil and gas industry’s most pressing problems: extracting the increasingly prized and scarce fossil fuel. It’s a big project in every sense: in terms of the technology, the investment, and the sheer scale of the FLNG vessel itself. But then, it’s a big issue, and one that the hydrocarbon industry can’t ignore.

Fossil fuels are running out; it’s a truism that’s become a cliché. But the common perception of oil wells running dry and existing facilities trying to eke out a last wisp of gas don’t quite reflect the real situation. The truth is, there’s still a vast amount of fossil hydrocarbons knocking about that hasn’t been tapped at all. The problem is, it is in very inconvenient places.

Previously, it’s been considered too expensive to try to extract these problem reserves. It would require careful diplomacy for politically unstable areas; different approaches to production for environmentally sensitive regions; and new technology for unexploited types of hydrocarbon or unusual geologies. But with the easy-to-reach reserves now dwindling, oil companies are having to investigate these options. In the technology sphere, some of the new systems are truly staggering.


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