Federal Minister for Resources Martin Ferguson sings off the same hymn sheet as Shell Australia boss Ann Pickard when it comes to trumpeting Perth’s potential as an emerging global centre of technical excellence in the oil and gas industry.
On separate, recent visits to Perth, both the cabinet minister and the captain of industry commended the Challenger Institute of Technology, specifically its Australian Centre for Energy and Process Training (ACEPT) facility in Munster, as a pioneering flag bearer of world-class innovation and excellence establishing the city as a key hub in the Houston-Aberdeen-Perth global training triangle.
Shell has worked with Curtin University and Challenger Institute of Technology’s ACEPT to establish the Global Centre for FLNG Learning and Research Training. This unique training joint venture will deliver the training needs for the world’s first floating liquefied natural gas project.
ACEPT is poised to roll out the first qualified Floating LNG workers deployed to Shell’s Prelude facility off the northwest coast of Australia, where the first offshore natural gas processing plant substituting the role of a shore-based operation will be commissioned.
“Natural gas, previously thought to be unreachable, is now within our grasp. This would not be the case without a commitment to and investment in research and technological development. I want to express my appreciation to the industry for taking the lead on this front,” said Ferguson, of the successfully forged government-industry-education initiative.
“Perth is establishing itself not only as the important centre of the oil and gas industry but also as a significant hub for research and innovation,” added Ferguson. “This is not only important to Australia, but it is also potentially important from an export point of view in terms of our capacity to take these breakthroughs to other countries in terms of how their industry develops in the future.
“I refer to the activities of Curtin University and also UWA, who are working very closely with industry to undertake ground-breaking research. The universities are focussed on looking at new and innovative ways to explore for, extract and process natural gas.
“Shell is pioneering training for Floating LNG operations through the establishment of the Global Centre For Floating LNG Learning and Research and I think Perth has an opportunity to become a centre of excellence in the global community in terms of our floating LNG technology in the years ahead. It is up to us to grab at the opportunity. Working in partnership, Shell with Curtin University and Challenger Institute will ensure that this facility will train future operators of Floating LNG from Australia and from around the world,” said Ferguson.
It’s early days but Australia, oft maligned for a shortage of skilled workers to drive its resources industry – resulting in human capital being sought from overseas – could become a net exporter of Floating LNG technical expertise. At present, however, the sole focus is on building an Australian workforce.
Bruce Steenson, Vice President Technical and Prelude, Shell Australia, confirmed that the global supermajor’s first FLNG operators would graduate from the ACEPT program and were likely to be the world’s first to qualify in their field.
“At this stage the training of Shell FLNG operators is yet to commence and we are working with Challenger to develop a course that will give our workforce the best outcomes. The course will involve significant training in a live process environment to ensure FLNG trainee operators are prepared to work in an operating environment as soon as they graduate,” said Steenson.
Following that important milestone, subsequent training programmes will evolve in tandem with subsequent FLNG facilities spawned from the Prelude prototype.
“At this stage Prelude is Shell’s only FLNG project, but it can be said that any further Shell FLNG projects will use the learnings and experience we gain from Prelude, and that will probably include our approach to training. Shell’s global FLNG program is focused on continuous improvement, and this means capturing and applying all learnings from each FLNG project,” said Steenson.
The ACEPT facility has the capacity to train about 900 workers a year, specifically in process and instrumentation control operations and maintenance. It features a fully-equipped process plant, representing to scale about 10% the volume of a conventional LNG plant, with control equipment providing a hands-on-experience and flexible training solutions.
Pickard told the Deep Offshore Technology International Conference in Perth that Shell, having created new technology, realised the need for a strong local workforce and the need to develop new skill sets to operate it.
“That is why we’ve partnered with Curtin University and Challenger Institute to take our operators through a unique, multi-year training program to become the world’s first Floating LNG operators,” she said.
“We see a great new opportunity for Perth to become a global leader in Floating LNG, particularly in the operations side,” added Pickard.
On a quarterly basis, ACEPT schedules board meetings at Munster on occasions where 26 seats around the table are occupied by senior officials representing luminaries of the oil and gas industry gathering to discuss workforce development needs and strategy objectives.
At these meetings the curriculum is effectively customised to meet the requirements of industry at the purpose-built facility created to overcome the inherent difficulties of training people and testing competencies at a plant that is fulfilling a production role.
While ACEPT is predominantly being utilised by existing workers in the industry who are upgrading their skills, it can accommodate newcomers to the oil and gas sector.
Honeywell played a key role in the success of the facility by providing the process control and safety control systems that enables trainee operators to control the plant. Honeywell also supplied a training simulator, creating an environment in which students can perform start-up and control procedures as if in a real plant, but without the risk of real time accidents occurring.
“It is much like a trainee aircraft pilot doing classroom simulations before being allowed to fly a 747,” said Brian van Bueren, Honeywell Business Development Manager.
“When you come out of the classroom and go onto the simulator, it enables you to train up to 12 students simultaneously, each at a different pace of learning while getting the feel of sitting behind the operation in a control room and effectively running a real oil and gas facility,” added van Bueren.
Honeywell’s involvement dates back to 2005 when the company was courted to participate in the new facility at a time when there was a chronic shortage of process operators in particular.
“The sought after government- industry-education joint venture was something we were interested in. We said, ‘definitely this is something that will enable us to showcase our technologies’.“
The partnership provides mutual benefits as van Bueren said Honeywell were able to use the ACEPT facility to provide training for its own customers.
“The uniqueness of this facility is government, industry and education all getting together and jointly trying to solve a common problem, meeting every couple of months with other stakeholders to work out how best to direct the facility to meet the ever emerging needs of industry.
“FLNG popped up as a need for industry, but also important is that the facility is not exclusive to oil and gas. It can be used to train process operators in any industry. The concept of how to use a computer interface to run a physical plant essentially remains the same. What does change is the process, for instance how you might stop and start the system and how safety systems function. If something goes wrong and the process swings out of control, Honeywell systems will ensure a shut down in a controlled manner,” said van Bueren.
Jill Jamieson, Challenger Institute’s General Manager Training Services, said she believed ACEPT was a global trailblazer representing the first training facility of its kind rolling out employment-ready process operators as well as instrumentation and control and maintenance technicians.
“What makes ACEPT unique is that we have an industry board chaired by Keith Spence and comprising senior representatives of all the key oil and gas companies with whom we work closely to ensure we attract quality people into lecturing roles,” said Jamieson.
“Our industry partners have been generous with their support and time. We get people working on a part-time, sessional basis coming out of industry and we have had industry workers seconded to us working alongside delivery teams to ensure a constant flow of expertise.
“Our strength is the strong relationship we have forged with big companies, the likes of Chevron, Shell, Inpex, Apache and Woodside, with whom we have been developing and growing together.
“We do not work in isolation. As a result we can customise to develop new things as required. That is the only way we can do it and it is how it has been from the beginning. Very much, our role is not to direct, but to respond and customise.
“As industry takes new pathways, technology also needs to move along in new directions and pathways. Our role is to make sure we have capacity and can respond with FLNG to deliver for an (FLNG) industry predicted to grow with new facilities. That is why we are pleased with our established joint venture with Curtin University to ensure we are building capability in new fields and we hope ACEPT remains well placed to meet industry needs into the future, hence the JV title Global Centre for FLNG Learning and Research ,” said Jamieson.
ACEPT and its staff are proud of its reputation as a pioneering global hub at the forefront of new developments.
“I believe that our facility is one of the largest of its kind in the world and from the launchpad of our intellectual property and training capability we hope to be growing in a way that we can respond to industry trends to ensure we remain a global hub of education, research and training,” said Jamieson