BP proposes £2bn scheme to power rigs from shore

Offshore: Proposals for mainland electric cable link to platforms being considered

Mounting environmental pressures on the oil industry have forced BP to consider a $2bn scheme to replace power generators on its North Sea platforms with an electricity cable link to power stations on land.

The company invited all sectors of the electricity industry – power generators, grid operators and technology developers -to submit proposals for such a scheme by the end of August and is now evaluating the responses.

The plan would involve running a number of large direct current power cables out to converter stations – the first would be one of the Forties platforms in the central North Sea – from which alternating current would be run to neighbouring installations. Other operators in the area could tie in to the ‘hub’. Event-ually, it is thought seven hub facilities would be required to supply 68 platforms.

Russell Smith, BP’s North Sea power project leader, said the scheme would save the 20 million cubic metres of gas currently used daily for offshore power generation. Because the aeroengine-based gas turbines and diesel plants used for offshore generation have a low efficiency – around 25% – carbon emissions would also be cut by 7 million tonnes. ‘It will lead to an improvement in environmental performance and working conditions,’ said Smith.

The project would require several hundred miles of large-diameter copper cable – costing more than £600 per metre – and possibly the construction of a 2,000MW power station on shore.

BP said the capital expenditure was likely to exceed $2bn but this would be partly offset by the sale of gas freed up by the scheme. The development phase would not begin before September 2001, and the earliest date for first power would be 2003.

Electricity companies weremostly sceptical, however, that the scheme makes economic sense, unless it also averts expensive safety-related rig refurbishments or frees up vital space on platforms for other revenue generating purposes.

An executive at one large generator familiar with the project said: ‘I think the main problem is one of cost. You could get a hell of a lot better envir-onmental benefit for $2bn by other means. The other big disadvantage is the complete dependence of offshore operations on a single power source.