A major operation involving the last section of the longest pipeline bundle made was due to be launched off Caithness last night.
The 3.1-mile pipeline, which contains a trio of pipes, will be slowly and carefully pulled off the beach into the sea by tugs from a 4.3-mile track stretching inland at Wester near Wick.
Its destination is the Andrew field, 140 miles from Aberdeen, where it will be connected to three other bundles, creating a 16.8-mile section of complex pipework.
The bundle, built by Subsea 7 over 14 months and described by oil giant BP as “the single largest moveable object on the planet”, will unlock 45million barrels of oil equivalent in BP’s Kinnoull field by linking it back to the Andrew platform.
In total, seven vessels and hundreds of staff onshore will be involved in the operation into the weekend.
The process will see it travel through woodland, over a river and under the Wick to John O’Groats road bridge.
Eamon Sheehan, subsea delivery manager for BP’s Andrew area projects, said: “Completing this final section of what is the world’s longest pipeline bundle system is a major milestone and one that has been delivered safely and efficiently.
“Watching the start of the launch from the facility is the finale of 14 months of dedicated UK pipeline engineering, involving around 150 people in the Wick area.
“There is a lot more UK-based engineering work ahead as we progress towards first oil from the Kinnoull project in 2013 and we look forward to working with our various suppliers and contractors to deliver the project safely and on time.”
The Kinnoull field development is part of a £900million project, which will see the field and, at a later date, the smaller fields Arundel and Lower Cretaceous tied back to the Andrew platform, extending its life beyond 2020.
As well as the pipeline bundles, built at Subsea 7’s Wick facility, other types of pipeline casings for the project, called risers and caissons, are being made at Isleburn, Invergordon, an 18-mile umbilical cable is being made in Newcastle, a 750-tonne process module is being made in Hartlepool, subsea trees are being made in Leeds and subsea control systems are being made by Vetco Gray in Bristol.
Subsea 7’s site at Wester is described as one of the longest fabrication sites in the world. Between 50 to 300 work on the site at any one time in temperatures which last year fell to -14C or -27C with wind chill.
The site has been active since 1978 when Land & Marine first opened a facility to serve the offshore industry.
Massive sections of pipe are brought up from Invergordon to be welded together and connected into bundles.
Larger sections, such as manifolds, are shipped into Wick harbour and brought through the town to the facility by lorry – a process which requires the removal of and reinstatement of walls and often brings the town to a standstill as people stop to watch the spectacle.