Bullwinkle upgrade reflects Shell's approach in deepwater

Bullwinkle, the largest fixed platform in the Gulf of Mexico, was recently expanded to accomodate production from surrounding fields [41,133 bytes]. Production from the Troika subsea development is processed at the Bullwinkle platform before being metered and piped to shore [74,846 bytes]. The Northeast Compression module is a major component of the Bullwinkle expansion [30,839 bytes]. The Southeast Production module was recently installed as part of a major expansion of the Bullwinkle platform

Capacity available to other nearby operators

William Furlow
Technology Editor
For the past 10 years, Shell's Bullwinkle production facility has been the tallest conventional platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Shell installed this 1,730-ft-high behemoth in the late 1980s, at the bottom of the oil glut. The decision was based upon the tremendous reserves found in Green Canyon Blocks 64, 65, and 109.

In the mid-1990s, Shell was considering new revenue streams and hit upon the idea of providing handling capacity for production from other Gulf of Mexico operators. Shell Offshore has an extensive infrastructure network in place in the Gulf of Mexico, including platforms, pipelines, and gas plants. Use of these facilities on a contract basis would save other operating companies lots of money. They could tie-back subsea developments to existing platforms for processing and transport of their production to existing pipelines onshore.

The result of this newly formed scenario was the creation of Shell Midstream Enterprises. Bullwinkle fit nicely into this plan because of its immense size and proximity to large subsea developments such as Troika and Angus, which had not yet come onstream.

A deal was struck with the owners of the Troika field, located in Green Canyon Block 244. Shell would provide processing, handling, and transportation capabilities to meet the quality requirements of export pipelines. The platform would also provide for the discharge of produced water and water injection activities, conduct compression, and transport the gas and liquids to the appropriate delivery points.

To meet the requirements of this and future deals for Angus and other fields, meant the Bullwinkle capacity would have to be greatly expanded. For example, Troika alone would be providing about 80,000-100,000 b/d of production.

Although Bullwinkle is the largest fixed platform in the Gulf, it does have strict weight and size limits. Shell Offshore calculated the maximum expansion possible within these physical limits when designing the expansion. In the opinion of Floyd Landry, Area Leader for Bullwinkle, this expansion is as far as current technology can go, given the size limits of Bullwinkle.

"We tried to optimize the downtime impacts, while maximizing the throughput," he said.

Initially, the thought of expanding Bullwinkle was not the only idea on the table. To be effective in marketing its new product, Shell had to look at all the options as an owner would. Landry said a tension-leg platform is a production option that would work on the Troika field, but timing was such a critical issue that it could easily be ruled out. Such a vessel would take years to build, while the Bullwinkle expansion took a total of 14 months. Also, with the existing infrastructure and advancements in subsea technology, tying back to Bullwinkle was cost-effective.

Long term, the company hopes to deplete the fields currently tying back to Bullwinkle, then seek new customers in need of the platform's facilities. While emerging technologies have allowed Shell to deplete some of the Bullwinkle wells faster than originally estimated, the platform was not originally designed with an expansion in mind. The fact that the platform had some extra space and weight capacity was due to earlier platform planning, and good luck.

This type of approach is not new. Some platforms Shell owns in shallower water in the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico already handle production form other fields. While it is relatively easy to tieback gas lines over a long distance, Landry said it is still very difficult to run a crude oil tieback any great distance in deepwater. He predicted that as the subsea technology continues to advance and overcomes this limitation, projects like the one underway on Bullwinkle will be offered to more remote developments.

This expansion increased the Bullwinkle production facilities from 44,000 b/d to 200,000 b/d, and water handling capacity from 20,000 b/d to 65,000 b/d. Gas capacity was increased from 100 MMcf/d to 320 MMcf/d.

Planning for shutdown

In addition to space and weight considerations, the timing and cost of shuting-in Bullwinkle production during the expansion was an important factor. The goal was to get as much work done prior to and following the shut-in to minimize this cost. This meant prefabrication of new modules that could be installed relatively quickly, with follow up work that would not interfere with the day-to-day activities of operating the platform.

Landry said organizing such an effort was a major challenge. There would be installation crews working around the clock at the same time the regular crew complement was busy operating the platform.

As planning progressed on what was thought to be a 26-month project, Shell received word that the deadline had changed. Instead of 26 months, the team had 20 months to be ready in time for first production from Troika.

This time element heated up planning operations. Landry said this project became a real watershed for Shell's new empowerment philosophy. For such a major undertaking to be completed and running in this short amount of time, there would have to be a minimum of bureaucracy. Decisions would have to be made on the spot. Any delays due to management bottlenecks could prove financically detrimental to the project.

Landry said Shell went with contractors it had worked with in the past to put together a team that was comfortable working together and knew Bullwinkle in and out. Out of these contractors, the Bullwinkle Expansion Team "Bullet" was created to execute the design, fabrication, installation, and startup of the expansion. They met weekly, planning and montitoring progress.

Tony Parjus of Petro-Marine Engineering did engineering work on the original Bullwinkle installation. He said his engineers would send individual designs to the fabricators working at Houma Industries, Bay Incorporated, and Test Inc. so work on the platform could progress while the designs were still being made. Parjus said one of the reasons the system worked was the communication between the yard and the engineers. He said work focused on the critical path. If the yard needed drawings for a certain part of the platform, the engineers would accommodate. "We were always ahead of the fabricators," he said.

No final drawings

In some cases, the yard would work with rough drawings in the beginning and receive the details only after work progressed. Jim Jamison, Project Manager and Eric Champagne, Project Engineeer, helped guide the Bullwinkle Expansion Team in reviewing the priorities of the engineers and fabricators often to ensure work was moving in the right direction. If a change was required, all were in on the decision. This saved time initially, and avoided costly mistakes down the line. Inspectors were also involved during the work, rather than at the end, to identify problems right away and avoid surprises at the end of construction.

Another unusual aspect of this project was the communication from the fabricators to the engineers. Parjus said his people learned to listen to the welders who were actually doing the construction, and would receive questions and suggestions about the design that helped speed the process and avoid problems.

Anytime a problem developed, the "Bullet" was assembled so that all areas of the work would be considered in the decision of how to proceed. This policy made for some difficult coordination, To make things easier, the Shell team rented offices in the same building were Petro-Marine was housed. In addition to considering input from the various team members, the project had to consider the other clients, Troika, Angus and future developments that had not yet been named. The requirements of these customers played a key role in expansion plans.

Because the weight and space limitations of the platform were considered an inelastic quantity, Pete Couturi?, PME's Engineering Manager, was charged with weight and center of gravity management. Any changes to platform equipment or location had to be reviewed and approved to optimize weight allocation. "No one could add a pump without first talking to Pete," Parjus said.

Victor Builliot was the project manager for Houma Industries on the fabrication of the new modules. There were two major pieces built by Houma: the Southeast Production module and Northeast Compression module. William Valentine, also a project manager with Houma Industries, said his company had worked with Shell for over 20 years and was familiar with Shell's procedures. He said his first and second line supervisors kept the Bullwinkle Expansion Team apprized of what raw materials and components were arriving when, so the engineers could have the appropriate drawings ready when the components arrived. He said it is difficult to find a large number of skilled workers for a project of this size, but his company was able to train new workers for some smaller projects so the more experienced staff could concentrate on the Bullwinkle project.

In addition to dealing with the tight employee market, Valentine said the yard faced an emerging steel shortage. He said steel for such projects is getting harder to find as the existing mills struggle to keep up with the surge in demand. The upgrade and newbuild business has taxed supplies of steel and Valentine said he has heard rumors that allotments for next year may be limited to the amount a customer ordered for the previous year.

Now that ship and fabrication yards are gearing up with full calendars of work, the strain on supply is transferred to the steel mills, which have limited infrastructure. To eliminate this potential problem, Houma Industries ordered all the steel they would need for the Bullwinkle expansion ahead of time.

Valentine said it was a worker who suggested loading one of the heavy modules onto a barge while it was only partially assembled, and weighed less, then complete the addition of heavy pieces on the barge. By assembling the module in this manner Houma avoided the cost and scheduling issues involved in disassembling the module and reassembling it on the barge.


Downtime was a prime concern during the installation of the new modules on Bullwinkle. In fact, the Bullwinkle Expansion Team did not use this term, referring instead to "maximizing up time." To ensure the platform would be off-line for the shortest amount of time, a large number of contract workers were deployed to Bullwinkle. While the average number of workers on Bullwinkle during the expansion was 250, it rose as high as 303.

These workers slept in shifts, so work could proceed around the clock. Additional temporary quarters were stacked three stories deep across Bullwinkle's deck surface. Much of the work done by this number of contractors was going on concurrently with regular production activities and the activities associated with a workover rig operating on the platform, as well as pipelines, flowlines, and umbilical installation. In addition to the logistics of running these three concurrent operations, Shell also was in the process of staffing and training new workers to handle the increased production volumes and new equipment that came with the expansion.

Landry said safety was a major concern with so much activity on this platform. He attributes the project's safety record of 0.7 accidents per 200,000 man-hours to the selection and training of the new employees and the individual responsibility these workers were willing to shoulder.

Landry said the workers were trained to think through the steps in any job, in order to predict what could go wrong and how to guard against any foreseeable problems. These workers were then rewarded according to safety and adherence to schedule. The time budget information was shared with all workers who had incentive bonuses attached to these statistics.

Copyright 1998 Oil & Gas Journal. All Rights Reserved.

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