Spectra Energy

In 2008, natural gas infrastructure company Spectra Energy began asking natural gas producers in the Horn River Shale Basin what they thought they would need to succeed in the next several years. The answer came back resoundingly: more infrastructure. Director of Business Development Abir Chakraborty says projected production levels for 2012 made it clear that Spectra Energy would have to up its presence in the play considerably. “What came out of that process was that not only our existing infrastructure needed to be filled, but we needed additional infrastructure for expected production levels,” he says.

Spectra Energy signed contracts with its natural gas-producing customers to supply approximately 800 million cubic feet of capacity per day in the Horn River Shale Basin in the next few years between 2009 and 2012. To accomplish that feat, the company has embarked on an extensive and ambitious expansion program that will ultimately improve the company’s service throughout its Fort Nelson area system in northeastern British Columbia. Over the period of three years, Spectra Energy is investing approximately $1 billion in this region.

Spectra Energy’s expansion efforts in the region include the new Fort Nelson North Processing Facility, which will provide inlet separation, gas sweetening, amine regeneration, acid gas incineration, sales gas dehydration and sales gas compression services once completed. Chakraborty says the project is ideally situated in the region to allow Spectra Energy to serve existing customers as well as new ones, but its success has come only through a supreme effort from all involved. The project has come up against harsh weather, difficult site conditions and significant logistical challenges, but Chakraborty says Spectra Energy and its partners have come together to meet those challenges and are on track to bring the facility online on time.

Vital Resource
The new Fort Nelson North Processing Facility is located approximately 50 miles northeast of the community of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, however, due to limited and existing road infrastructure the actual travel distance to the site by road is 100 miles. Chakraborty says its centralized location will be perfect for servicing the current and future needs of natural gas producers throughout the region. He adds that Spectra Energy’s existing presence in the area made it the producers’ choice to expand infrastructure capacity for the region. “We were the natural choice for doing the most efficient expansion to meet any demand in the region,” he says.

The facility is designed to process approximately 250 million cubic feet of gas per day. Raw gas from various producers throughout the region will be sent to the facility through existing raw gas transmission pipelines to be processed and delivered to various markets in North America. Once the project is completed, it will give Spectra Energy almost 1.3 billion cubic feet of capacity per day, when paired with its existing Fort Nelson Gas Plant, which is the largest sour gas processing plant in North America.

Challenging Location
The project is in a great location for servicing Spectra Energy’s clients, but being a great location for construction is an entirely different story.

“The location, I think, was the biggest challenge to overcome for the project team,” Chakraborty says.

The project site is surrounded by a swampy area, which necessitated removing tens of thousands of cubic meters of unsuitable soil material and replacing it with compacted clay and gravel. Nearly 2,000 steel piles were installed to stabilize the various module, equipment and building foundations. What’s more, the project team had to deal with some extreme temperatures. “To meet our schedule, we set up a temporary batch plant onsite and poured all of concrete foundations in the winter time,” Chakraborty says. That would be challenging enough in most parts of the world, but in the area around Fort Nelson, winters can bring with them temperatures of -30 to -40 degrees Celsius which required extensive heat and hoarding.

Just getting to the site has been a challenge in and of itself, Chakraborty says. Much of the equipment for the facility has been sourced from all over North America. For example, the two boilers each weighing approximately 260,000 pounds were built in Texas, hauled by truck to Edmonton, transferred onto different trailers to satisfy British Columbia Highway requirements and hauled to Dawson Creek, B.C., where they were transferred onto rail cars and transported on rail siding near Fort Nelson and then moved again on trucks to the facility site. At one point, Chakraborty says, the team considered hauling the boilers by rail directly from Edmonton but was forced to haul by truck to Dawson Creek to avoid a train tunnel with lower height requirements. The team worked with local utility crews to lift electrical, cable and telephone lines to allow shipment of the over height modules and equipment loads.

Chakraborty also notes that the company needed to upgrade some roads and replace some bridges in advance of the project because some of them would not support the weight of our heaviest loads. “There’s literally four inches [of space] on each side,” he says of some of the bridges. “It was a tremendous amount of logistics and planning to make sure all necessary improvements were completed and permits secured to support the planned shipment of the heaviest equipment and modules during the winter shipping window of 2010/11” he says. One of the other most challenging moves was that of the two Amine contactors, which are steel vessels 8 feet diameter and 85 feet in length, each weighing more than 450,000 lbs. These vessels were transported from Edmonton, Alberta to site on a specialized tractor trailer with 128 wheels and overall length of 180 feet.

The site’s remote location also provided a challenge in terms of logistics and transportation of construction manpower. Chakraborty says it’s a challenge to attract workers to Fort Nelson, but Spectra Energy has been accommodating the contractors and workers by providing a construction camp, charter aircraft transportation from select cities in Alberta and British Columbia to Fort Nelson and bussing workers to and from site rotating them in and out of the camp on a weekly basis. He says currently approximately 135 workers each week are rotated in and out of the camp supporting continuous construction activities at site based on a 14-day-on, seven-day-off rotation. The project also has the support of local labor.

“From a construction perspective, we have not only the town of Fort Nelson, but also the Aboriginal communities are fully engaged on this project providing various support and contracting needs,” he says.

Even though it’s being built under some unusual conditions, the Fort Nelson North Processing Facility has proceeded on schedule and safely. “In this project alone, we have expended over 500,000 man-hours on site and our safety record has been very good. In the overall expansion program, Spectra Energy has recent surpassed 1 million man hours without any loss time injury milestone,” Chakraborty says, adding that the incident rate for the project has been well below industry norms. “The team has done a fantastic job of establishing and maintaining the safety culture.”

Chakraborty says all heavy equipment and vessels and pre-fabricated modules and spools have been delivered to site and field installation activities are well underway with the electrical portion of construction is expected to begin in a few weeks. Construction is targeted to be completed by year end with the plant is expected to be fully commissioned and in commercial operation by May 2012.