An offshore Newfoundland and Labrador oil project that was nearly abandoned after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is now racing towards the finish line, with uncertainty replaced by optimism.
St. John’s engineer Mike Rudofsky is in charge of building the West White Rose concrete gravity structure for Calgary-based Cenovus Energy, lead partner and operator of the White Rose oil field, about 350 kilometers east of St. John.
“It’s going very well. Especially here in Argentina,” Rudofsky told reporters during a tour of the massive structure on Wednesday.
Other partners in the multibillion-dollar project include another Calgary oil giant, Suncor Energy, and OilCo, the Newfoundland and Labrador-owned oil and gas company that owns a five per cent stake in the project.
Concrete base 83% complete
The project marked a major milestone in June with the successful completion of a risky and complex concrete pour called a cone slide, which saw the platform rise non-stop from 50 to 130 meters for three months.
Nearly 1,000 workers are working on the project, focusing on mechanical installations and additional concrete work that will raise the platform to its maximum height of 145 meters and weight of 200,000 tons.
West White Rose, which will be Newfoundland and Labrador’s first offshore wellhead platform, consists of a concrete base being constructed on a dedicated dock in the Port of Argentia and integrated upper facilities being constructed in Ingleside, Texas.
The overall project is now 70 percent complete, but the CGS is further along, at 83 percent.
“Many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are working on this project and are very proud of their work. And we have had tremendous success with our local workforce,” Rudofsky said.
This concrete tower can float
The plan is to flood the dock with 19 meters of seawater from Placentia Bay in the spring or summer of 2025, float the CGS to its location in the White Rose oil field and anchor it to the seabed in approximately 120 meters of water. The upper parts will be floated simultaneously from Texas and docked with the structure.
First oil is expected sometime in 2026, and daily production is expected to reach 80,000 barrels of oil per day.
The platform will be capable of drilling up to 40 wells in the White Rose oil field, but unlike other platforms such as Hibernia and Hebron, it will not refine or store the oil. Instead, it will send the oil back to the nearby floating, production, storage and offloading vessel SeaRose through a series of subsea flowlines. SeaRose, one of four offshore oil production facilities, has been in operation since 2005.
“One of the benefits of this structure is that we can drill 365 days a year,” Rudofsky said. “Previously, all of our wells were drilled with semi-submersible drilling rigs. This really gives us greater drilling efficiency.
Abandonment is not ruled out
The project was approved in 2017, but when construction was half completed, work was halted in March 2020 due to the pandemic and the collapse of oil markets.
More uncertainty was introduced in early 2021, when Cenovus announced a deal to acquire Husky Energy, which was the major owner of the White Rose oil field. Cenovus executives would not rule out abandoning the project.
After months of uncertainty, an ownership restructuring and an agreement by the provincial government to review the royalty regime, the partners announced the resumption of the project in May 2021.
“It was a very exciting moment when we realized we could finish this project,” Rudofsky said.
OilCo spokesperson Karen O’Neill told Breaking: the Crown-owned corporation has so far invested $405.9 million in its portion of the White Rose extension project. OilCo’s share of West White Rose production is estimated at six million barrels, she said.
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