Manila, already one of the world’s densest and most populated cities, is undergoing a major growth spurt.

An expanding middle class is driving sales of electronic goods, cars and condominiums. More people are visiting air-conditioned shopping centres and supermarkets in the crowded Philippine capital.

And with a rising population and no end in sight to the country’s economic boom, policymakers in the Philippines are thinking hard about how to generate enough energy to meet the expected doubling of demand over the next 15 years.

The options include exploring for more natural gas to generate electricity, as well as buying liquefied natural gas from other countries.

But a new project in deep waters off the western Philippines is demonstrating another way to meet the world’s growing energy needs – by boosting the life of existing energy assets.

Today, the Malampaya offshore gas field is one of the main sources of energy for the Philippines. It provides up to 30% of the electricity supply of the main island of Luzon, which, in turn, generates around 80% of the country’s gross domestic product.

But since production at Malampaya started in 2001, pressure in the gas reservoir deep beneath the seabed has dropped, potentially reducing the supply of electricity to millions of homes and businesses.

“It’s very important that we find a way to maximise the field and keep it going as long as possible,” says Sebastian Quiniones, asset manager of Shell Philippines Exploration which operates Malampaya.

To address the problem, Shell designed a so-called depletion compression platform which boosts the pressure to help keep gas flowing out of the reservoir and through the pipeline to shore. The new platform is expected to maintain the gas flow at current levels for about another decade.

Innovative features

The platform took two years to complete, involved over 1,400 workers, and is the first gas platform to be completely designed and built in the Philippines. It has several innovative features.

For one, the 13,000-tonne structure had to be installed without the use of specialised vessels that normally transport and help place the offshore platform on the seabed. Few vessels were available due to the remote location of the existing Malampaya platform, located some 50 kilometres offshore from Palawan in the South China Sea.

The engineering team addressed this challenge by designing a built-in jacking system with four, 80-metre legs. Once the legs were fully extended into the water, they lifted the platform into its final position.

The new compression platform and the bridge linking the existing platform to it must also withstand strong tremors, as the Malampaya field is located in an earthquake and typhoon-prone region.

“One of our challenges was designing for both these forces of nature,” says Martyn Turner, Shell’s head of design and engineering for the platform.

Martyn and his team designed a bridge that would slide rather than remain bolted in place so that it would not break in the event of a major tremor.

Power on

On board the platform are two powerful 26MW compressors, which are the industrial version of the engines used by aircraft such as the Boeing 747s. They compress the gas produced by the existing platform, boosting its pressure so that it can be piped to the shore.

The design of Malampaya’s new platform will likely be used in other remote offshore areas, says Graham Henley, Shell’s vice president of operated projects.

“It’s just as important to get as much oil and gas out of existing fields as we can as it is to find cost-effective solutions for new developments,” says Henley. “And as responsible developers of our mature fields, we should be aiming to reach the last remaining reserves.”

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