In 1986, oil in commercial quantities was discovered at Iagifu in the southern highlands of PNG near Lake Kutubu, from which the project derives its name. The joint venturers, led by Chevron Niugini, signed an agreement with the PNG Government in December 1990 signalling the go-ahead of the project. Chevron Niugini’s Project General Manager was John Lyle.
In early 1988, Williams Brothers-CMPS (WB-CMPS) moved into PNG after being awarded a contract by Chevron Niugini to carry out route survey and preliminary engineering for the onshore pipeline system. General Manager of WB-CMPS Charles Rottier was Project Manager for the Kutubu Project. Brian Dewing headed up the survey team, with survey investigations getting underway in March 1988.
Route selection, survey and engineering continued on a scaled down basis through 1989, with final design development commencing in November of that year. Detailed design commenced in February 1990. Richard Robinson, who joined WB-CMPS in early 1989, was the Kutubu onshore pipeline design manager. The onshore pipeline design included an initiating pump station in the field and a 171 km, 508 mm pipeline extending to a landfall on the Kikori River.
In the October 1990 edition of The Australian Pipeliner WB-CMPS reported that their office for the Kutubu project was open and operating seven days a week. It was quiet at that stage – waiting for the project to get underway – with the only occupant being the project superintendent Joe Ashton, with Graeme McAinch, Bob Perry and Ron Black back in Brisbane evaluating onshore pipeline tenders.Article continues below…
As well as the onshore pipeline there were the marine facilities, a 94 km marine pipeline to an offshore platform and a further 3.8 km to a single point mooring facility for ship loading.
In December 1991, a joint venture between McConnell Dowell (PNG) and Spie Capag (PNG) was awarded a contract for the construction of the onshore pipeline.
Bouygues Offshore (BOS) was awarded the contract to lay the 94 km, 500 mm offshore pipeline and install offshore facilities.
The, high density polyethylene and concrete coated onshore pipeline would be laid by a team of over 800 staff.
Jeff Shepherd of McConnell Dowell and Jacques Pegaz of Spie Capag were the construction managers for the joint venture on what was one of the world’s most rugged pipeline jobs. It was laid in country with a 4.5 to 6 metre mean annual rainfall with no road access and river access at only two points.
We asked Jeff Shepherd to give his comments on the construction of this project and he had the following to say: “The Kutubu project was both exciting and dangerous. The terrain was 75 per cent swamp with numerous fast flowing rivers and 25 per cent mountains. The climate was hot and humid (with temperatures often reaching more than 30 degrees Celsius).
“The joint venture between French and Australians did present cultural and language difficulties. All of which were overcome by a joint pipeline ethos.
“The tendering process was difficult, WB-CMPS had spent two years in the field cutting through the jungle to determine a route. The prequalified tenderers were flown to site by helicopter to a bush base camp and the route survey was carried out by helicopter, landing at a number of helipads cut into the jungle. At these points one was able to walk a little to get a feel for the place and other than that we saw the tree canopy. In hindsight, management was very bold to accept our tender assessment.
“The first ship was Curtin Brothers’ San Francisco, a front loading ship that sailed from Port Brisbane up the Kikori River to the Village of Kopi where it nosed in to the bank and the first excavator climbed ashore followed by a bulldozer, crane and piling equipment. The trees had previously been felled and the site was cleared, a docking ramp was excavated and two jetties for a 100 tonne and 50 tonne crane were piled.
“A 100 man ex-pat camp and office set-up was shipped in and a 1,000 man national camp was constructed on site basically using locally hewn timber and PVC sheeting. Bredero Shaw erected a coating plant.
“All the equipment was shipped up the river, even ocean going vessels managed to work the tides and arrive at the Kopi Wharf. The pipe was shipped to an inlet and transferred to barges.
“John Brennan and Peter Anderson took care of the initial works while Jacques Pegaz and I were still planning and mobilising.
“The main component of construction was to build a limestone road through the swamps. This was achieved by blasting down the limestone pinnacles in the area and loading and carting to form the access road. Progress was slow as we could only travel on the road we had constructed.
“We did move a component up to the Kaiam Camp once we had established that camp, transporting units by jet barge up the Kikori River.
“A feature of the low-lying swamp lands was the numerous creeks and rivers, a number of Bailey bridges were constructed but other creeks were bridged by cutting local timber and driving the logs into the ground and building log abutments and a log deck. Substantially this work was carried out by Pat Deane and his PNG assistant. They put in a fantastic effort.
“The construction of the ROW up the mountains was difficult. Neil Scobles and Gordon Slattery, two exceptional excavator operators, could be seen from the helicopter inching their way up the steep terrain.
“Jim Cummins built the swamp ROW, Benny Bowen bent the pipes. An Australian team of welders welded the pipes.
“The PNG plant operators were terrific; we were able to take advantage of the disruption of the Bougainville Copper Mine closure and recruited the majority of excavator operators, dozer operators and truck drivers.
“Vic Sharpe was the master mechanic who, along with Paul Petith, Filthy Phil, kept the plant going. As there was a high import duty on spare parts we took an additional D7 which was systematically broken down to keep the machines working.”
Jeff finished with these remarks, “Every day was hard, it was always hot and sweaty and often there was the heavy rain, we were wet all the time from either rain or sweat, I carried a handkerchief in a plastic bag to keep it dry to wipe my glasses.”
For this project, more so than most, a good communication system was essential and an excellent system engineered by CMPS through their Brisbane office was thought to have represented the highest standard yet achieved on a remote pipeline job.
Pipe coating was by Shaw Pipe Protection, who set up a coat application plant at Kopi after winning the coating contract in December 1990. David Head was Shaw’s Marketing Manager at the time with Graham Wells as Project Manager and Wayne Schultz as Plant Superintendent.
Meanwhile, the design and engineering of the offshore pipeline and marine facilities was also being carried out by RJ Brown – CMPS with Greg Miller as Marine Facilities Manager and Roger McGovern as Marine Pipeline Design Engineer.
Building of the Kutubu pipeline was an unusual project as the land section of the pipeline did not end at the coast. Rather a point up the Kikori River had to be chosen where the onshore line finished and the marine line began. It was decided to site the transition about 45 km inland as this was where suitable soil conditions for conventional pipelaying finished.
The pipeline entered the Kikori River about 4 km upstream from the Kikori village and routed down the channels of the Kikori and Nakari Rivers for a distance of about 48 km, where it entered the Gulf of Papua.
Laying of the pipeline in the river by BOS commenced 3 October 1991, and was a world-first. Conditions were extremely difficult, with currents exceeding 4 knots, shifting sandbanks and frequent grounding of lay barge TAK 300.
Starting at KP 0, the river pipelaying finished at KP 37.5. The total river pipelay spread involved 12 vessels and 190 people. The derrick barge BOS 355 picked up the pipe left by TAK 300 and laid pipe to KP 49 where a 175 tonne stinger was installed and pipe laid to the platform location.
The piles, jacket, accommodation, utility modules and the mooring buoy were installed by BOS using BOS 355. The final testing was completed 15 June 1992 with oil loaded on the first tanker 27 June 1992.