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Inpex looks to the next 40 years at Ichthys

Japanese player's first major operated project came on line last year - now the focus is on ramp-up to plateau production rate

The Ichthys liquefied natural gas project is Inpex’s first major operated project and its start-up last year marked the culmination of a 20-year journey since the company was first awarded the block containing the Ichthys field in 1998.

Not long ago, the onshore facilities were a hive of construction activity, with more than 8000 workers on site each day at the peak of construction.

Now the workforce largely consists of operations staff focused on ramping up the plant to its plateau production rate of 8.9 million tonnes per annum of LNG, 1.6 million tpa of liquefied petroleum gas and 100,000 barrels per day of condensate.

The transportation mode of choice for a majority of the workers around the onshore LNG facility is bicycle, with the number of vehicles on the roads around the plant kept to a minimum to reduce potential ignition sources.

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Steam can be seen billowing from the combined-cycle plant which powers the facility and has the capacity to produce up to 490 megawatts of electricity via five gas and three steam turbine generators.

This is more than the entire city of Darwin currently consumes.

At the heart of the onshore facilities are two large LNG trains cooling the gas entering the plant to minus 161 degrees Celsius, placing it into the liquid form required for export.

The plant is currently fed by 18 wells at the Ichthys field off Western Australia, with output gathered within the field’s Ichthys Explorer central processing facility, which is the world’s largest semi-submersible platform.

It is here initial processing is carried out, extracting condensate and water, as well as removing impurities in order to make the gas suitable for transportation via an 890-kilometre subsea pipeline to the onshore facilities at Bladin Point.

The majority of the condensate is transferred to the Ichthys Venturer floating production, storage and offloading vessel and offloaded onto shuttle carriers, with the remainder sent to Darwin with the gas.

Following a tour of the onshore facilities last week, Inpex’s board held their first meeting outside of Japan in a room attached to the control room, the nerve centre of the company’s entire Ichthys operations.

Speaking to media before the meeting, Inpex chief executive Takayuki Ueda confirmed that while the focus was very much on ramping up to plateau production, the board would also discuss what is next for the Japanese company in Australia.

“In this meeting we are planning to discuss the future activity (of) Inpex in Australia, how we are going to expand our facility, what is the current situation (regarding the) ramping up of Ichthys, what are our next activities,” he said.

Next phase

Inpex is now proceeding with its next phase of drilling at Ichthys, with Ueda confirming the company was looking to drill about 12 wells and install additional subsea equipment.

A joint venture between McDermott and GE company Baker Hughes landed the contract last week covering the subsea umbilicals, risers and flowlines as well as the subsea production system for the upcoming development campaign.

The new wells will be tied back to the Ichthys Explorer, with work to start next year and expected to be completed in 2023.

Inpex has also contracted the semi-submersible Maersk Deliverer from 2020 for three years to carry out the drilling campaign.

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“We are working on the next phase of field development, targeting areas and formations that are currently undeveloped. Existing offshore infrastructure will be augmented with new wells, manifold and flowlines,” an Inpex spokesperson confirmed to Upstream.

“The reservoir is being developed in stages, with the first 18 wells completed, and potentially a further 32 wells required over the full field life of 40 years to complete the full development of the reservoirs.”

The spokesperson also confirmed the company was considering the possibility of a booster compressor module for the Ichthys Explorer central processing facility.

Upstream revealed last month that Inpex was seeking expressions of interest to build a 4000-tonne compression module.

It is understood that the operator believes that compression will enable throughput from its 42-inch subsea gas export pipeline to expand by up to 50%.

With an anticipated 40-year life, the ongoing development of the Ichthys field is key to supporting Inpex’s potential expansion in Australia and the wider region.

“Expansion is contingent on securing a sufficient volume of new reserves to justify additional investment,” said the Inpex spokesperson.

“Thereafter, technical and commercial aspects will be considered and evaluated at the development stage.”

Inpex has set its sights on becoming a top 10 international oil company by 2040 and reaching production of 1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

In order to help meet those targets, Inpex has discussed applying the knowledge and capabilities learned through its more than two-decade journey at Ichthys to projects around the world, including the $20 billion Abadi LNG project in Indonesia.

Inpex is moving forward with the front-end engineering and design phase at Abadi after recently receiving government approval for its revised plan of development, which will see the Abadi field in the Arafura Sea exploited via a 9.5 million tpa onshore liquefaction project.

Abadi is expected to deliver 180,000 boepd towards the company’s 1 million boepd target when it comes on stream in the latter half of the 2020s.

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