WORDS PETER HALLIDAY
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2020
WHere we work
“Under any circumstances, safely delivering a project of this size and quality to this timescale would have been a great achievement. Under the circumstances of 2020, it was absolutely remarkable, and everyone involved should be hugely proud of what we achieved.”
These are the words of Andrew Morton, Project Manager for bp. He is talking about the Ghazeer Phase 2 project in Oman. And, when a client is prepared to go on the record and be this positive about your work, you can be confident it was a successful delivery.
Awarded to Petrofac in 2017, the lump-sum engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning (EPCC) project involved the addition of a third gas train to the Block 61 gas field located deep in the Omani desert. It followed the completion of the Phase 1 facility, and the concession now forms a vital part of the Sultanate’s energy infrastructure, with the capacity to deliver more than a third of its total gas supply.
It was also a challenging delivery. The site is very remote and the climate punishing. The scope of work involved a tricky brownfield element, with the tie-in of the new plant to the existing facility. As ever, the timescales were tight. And then, to complicate matters further, came Covid-19.
So, what was the secret of the success? And how were the challenges overcome?
“You could put it down to a lot of forward planning, a lot of intricate sequencing, a lot of close teamwork, and a little bit of good fortune,” says Project Director Manash Mukherjee. And, in this single sentence, he neatly sets out the essence of the story.
A LOT OF FORWARD PLANNING
To begin with, Manash and his teams were able to build on the good work from Phase 1. Many of the same people could be involved, several of the same vendors could be redeployed, lessons learnt could be immediately applied, and the new facility could be, as far as was possible, a cloned copy of the first.
“We were actually able to clone over 60% of the Phase 1 design,” explains Manash. “This meant we could freeze the design work very early, start ordering the materials immediately, and get moving with the excavation, which gave us an incredible headstart.”
The Sharjah & Mumbai Design offices strongly supported the early release of deliverables aligning with the project team’s plans.
Also, with so few unknowns in the designs, the team was able to see quite far into the future. As well as being able to plan each phase of the project – from the engineering, to the procurement to the construction, to the commissioning – they could look at how to integrate these phases tightly together, and approach them concurrently rather than sequentially.
So, for example, the construction teams could complete one discrete area of the plant and move on to the next, and commissioning team could follow right behind them, rather than having to wait until all of the work was done.
A lot of intricate sequencing
“For me, the big learning from Phase 1 was the importance of materials management and sequencing,” explains Project Manager Alok Agarwal. “For example, if you’ve got a piping crew of 800 personnel waiting onsite, you need to deliver the right piping to the right place at the right time.”
This was another of the dividends of the head start.
The materials and equipment could be specified early, ordered early, and received in the right sequence. All the necessary information was digitised. Everyone knew what was arriving when, and could plan accordingly. And tasks could be progressed in the most logical sequence.
“It’s a matter of feeding the site with materials, not starving it, and not flooding it either,” explains Manash. Also, wherever possible, complete systems could be pre-fabricated on the ground and then lifted into position which, with less working at height, was faster and safer. In fact, across the project, an estimated 70% of all the welding was competed on the ground. Similarly, as soon as a new trench was dug, all of the necessary services could be laid within it, and backfilling could be done early. “It may not sound that profound or strategically significant, but the correct delivery and construction sequencing makes all the difference,” says Alok.
“If you’ve got a piping crew of 800 personnel waiting onsite, you need to deliver the right piping to the right place at the right time.”
One of Petrofac’s projects in New Zealand
A LOT OF CLOSE TEAMWORK
Speaking to key players at both Petrofac and bp, you are struck by the sense that this was an incredibly cohesive team, with a shared determination to do an exceptional job. And it seems that, somehow, that same level of commitment infected the entire workforce.
Andrew Morton explains the situation well: “It’s easy to talk about quality. It’s much more difficult to embed it in everything and instil it in everyone, from the most senior executives, all the way through to the set-up teams and the welding crews at site. But we all shared a vision of quality, created the right culture, and we celebrated quality. One way to evaluate quality is to look at piping weld repair rates. On most projects in most countries, you would be extremely pleased with a repair rate of 2%. Yet, here at Ghazeer, we achieved a rate of 0.77%. It represents a ‘best in class’ welding performance and it’s also indicative of the quality across the board. You don’t get that type of performance without the welder himself believing in what we want to achieve, day-in-day out. When you consider that we had over 3,500 people on site, and they all cared that deeply about the quality of their work, you begin to appreciate what we achieved.”
A particularly successful initiative was the monthly Nam Awards (or Right First Time Awards), when top-performing workers were recognised and rewarded for the quality of their work. “Every month we’d all come together, there would be some friendly rivalry among the various teams, and you’d see people who were genuinely thrilled to be picked out and recognised. For me, it was a real highlight, and one of my abiding memories of the entire project,” adds Andrew.
A LITTLE BIT OF GOOD FORTUNE
One thing that could not have been foreseen was the emergence of Covid-19. And, as the pandemic began to take hold, the teams were working on the trickiest phase of the entire project, as Phase 2 was being tied-in to Phase 1, which necessitated a brief shutdown of the entire plant.
Originally, the shutdown had been scheduled for July. But bp had asked if it were feasible for it to happen sooner. And, thanks to the speed at which the project was progressing, it was brought forward.
“By its nature, a shutdown can be hazardous. And due to lost production, it is also very costly,” explains Deputy Project Director Bahram Chweich. “At the time, bringing it forward was a huge challenge. But, in retrospect, it was a very good decision, as the shutdown was successfully executed early, whereas a later July shutdown could have been impacted significantly by Covid-19, which could have delayed the entire project.”
As it was, the most challenging part of the project was completed early, and the teams could accelerate through to finishing line. There were, of course, further complexities to navigate, such as managing the impact of the pandemic, adapting working processes, and ensuring that, whatever happened, the project site remained Covid-19-free.
ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS?
The rest, as they say, is history.
“What we achieved, especially between April and July 2020, was phenomenal,” adds Construction Director Mohammed Shaheen. “As the Covid-19 pandemic intensified, we felt insulated from it, as though our site was the safest place on earth. And, as the whole world came crashing down, Ghazeer kept pushing forward.”
Ultimately, the project was delivered two months early. Some 19 million hours were safely completed, without a single lost-time incident (LTI). bp was able to put the project into production in October 2020. And this will surely go down in the annals of Petrofac history as one of the company’s most impressive performances.