Hibernia Platform Built
On Firm Basis of Teamwork

by Neil Windsor, P.Eng.

I recently had the pleasure of sharing the company of two members of APEGGA's Executive Committee - President Dennis Lindberg, P.Eng., and Past President Fred Otto, P.Eng, PhD - as I made a return visit to what for me are familiar surroundings in Newfoundland. We had the privilege of being on hand in late May as a miracle of modern engineering, the 600,000-tonne Hibernia production platform was prepared for its slow but steady journey from Trinity Bay to its offshore position 315 kilometres east of St. John's.

As someone who has had an involvement and interest in the Hibernia since its early days in the late 1970s when the field was discovered, it was personally satisfying to see this amazing structure, which in height rivals the Calgary Tower, and the world's largest tugs which have since towed the gravity based structure to its final location on the Grand Banks.

It certainly was a proud and exciting day for Newfoundland. But there is every reason for other Canadians and particularly for Albertans, to celebrate the emplacement of this colossus consisting of a 111-metre gravity base structure which supports the 110-metre-high topside facility which, in turn, houses the crew and the command centre from which production is controlled. Alberta-based companies, many of them APEGGA Permit Holders and most of them employing APEGGA Members, have been part of the Hibernia project since the beginning. Alberta-based resource companies, engineers and geoscientists helped with the discovery of the off-shore oil, proved up the reserves and then helped provide the means and the expertise that now places Hibernia on the brink of production.

The willingness of major investors in the project, such as Mobil Oil Canada, Chevron Canada Resources, Petro-Canada, Murphy Oil and others, to persevere and maintain the faith , through thick and thin, now means that, despite the earlier naysayers, the field should prove profitable.

(As the St. John's Evening Telegram noted in an editorial published as the platform was about to head to sea, at $18 a barrel, the project offers a seven per cent return on investment, and with a rise to $24 a barrel, that rate of return would rise to 12 per cent. Assuming a recovery of 800 million barrels over its lifetime, the return rate rises to 50 per cent. The editorial noted: "the Globe's Report on Business reported that the Hibernia project is not only going to pay for itself, but it will also repay all the federal loans it has received, pay dividends to the federal government, and eventually pay back the billion dollar grant Ottawa advanced.

"And if all that is not enough, the provincial revenues from the project will also cut transfer payments to the province by $500 million over the life of the project. All this is because the Hibernia project came in on budget, with a price of oil higher than needed to break even, and with technology that will allow the project to recover much more oil than was initially envisioned.")

Of course, the Alberta connection did not end with the resource companies. A significant contribution toward the construction of the platform is a product of the engineering expertise and ingenuity of Alberta-based companies. The list is lengthy and I stand a chance of leaving some out if I try to list them all. But, for instance, the expertise in modular construction that PCL Industrial Constructors Inc. has developed over the years in serving this province's oil and gas industry, comes to mind.

Within days of the platform being successfully towed into place, another major engineering feat, the Confederation Bridge linking New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, was opened for traffic. Again, since the inception of this project, there has been a strong Alberta connection and APEGGA Members have made a major contribution. Strait Crossing Inc. of Calgary is a major partner in the project and companies such as SLG Stanley Consultants, and a long list of other small and large Alberta consultants, applied their expertise. And even with the bridge now carrying traffic, the Alberta (and indirectly APEGGA) link to "The Link" hasn't ended. Alberta engineers have been engaged to monitor the bridge's performance over the next several years.

Similarly, we can expect ongoing contributions by Alberta engineers and geoscientists as the operational phase begins later this year and some 135,000 barrels a day of oil are pumped out of Hibernia and work begins on the Terra Nova and Whiterose fields.

In completing these giant mega projects, lessons have been learned. Some of them are technical; some of them are of a more general nature. When great projects are undertaken, more than the structures themselves are built. In the process, our national social and economic ties also are strengthened. So, as I followed with interest the journey of the Hibernia platform, I was not only awed by its enormity but also very much aware of how it was the result of teamwork. Engineering and geoscience teams, many of our fellow APEGGA Members, have provided yet another demonstration to Canadians, and the world, just what can be accomplished through a united and co-operative effort. Once again, the contribution of APEGGA Members to the Alberta Advantage has been obvious and Alberta has played a significant role in two major national projects.

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