Features, Oil & Gas

What it takes to build $70 billion worth of LNG plants: Bechtel construction facts

As the LNG plants on Curtis Island continue to take shape in three projects worth billions of dollars in investments, Australian Mining did some digging to find out just what it takes to construct the facilities.

Bechtel is in charge of the engineering, procurement and construction of the massive plants for gas proponents Santos, BG Group and Origin Energy/ConocoPhillips, with the company saying they represent the biggest concentration of Bechtel projects anywhere in the world.

Construction of BG Group’s Queensland Curtis LNG kicked off in 2010, and it will be the first facility to produce gas, following completion in 2014.

The Australia Pacific LNG and the Santos-led GLNG both commenced construction in 2011 and are set to finish in 2015.

But before first gas is transported through massive pipelines from coal seam gas fields in Queensland’s mainland – work on the island continues and requires a mass amount of man-power and equipment to make it work.


Bechtel and its contractors employ more than 10 000 people across the three projects, with more than 4 500 of them coming from the Gladstone region.

The company employs 2 400 non-manual field workers, 5 000 crafts people and 3 000 sub-contractors.

Bechtel general manager Kevin Berg said the original forecast had shown a workforce peak of 8500 but that due to an accelerated schedule, the downturn in mining and the easing skills shortage in some areas, the figure will rise to 11 000.

"We currently have over 10 000 people working across the three projects and on the mainland," he said.

"We are approaching our peak and will remain at peak through mid-next year."

Berg said local residents were applying for jobs, with many joining the projects weekly.

"In fact, this week, we have more than 4700 local residents working on these projects," he said in September.

Berg said although the project was transitioning from civil works to the structural and mechanical phases of construction, there were still a number of critical roles up for grabs including electrical and mechanical trades, special class welders, instrument technicians and pipe fitters.

In June, Berg said more than 28 000 people had registered interest for Bechtel trade roles, and professional vacancies had received up to 125 applications each.

With all these employees needing somewhere to eat, sleep and relax, the island boasts temporary workers accommodation facilities at each project with 6000 rooms in total.

Bechtel told Australian Mining that with all the mouths to feed, 327 000 meals are served at the camp each month.

This consists of 55 000 kg of meat consumed each month, 300 000 eggs and 90 000 kg of fruit and vegetables.

And to keep fit and healthy, workers visit the island’s gyms 15 000 times a month.

The island also has pools, tennis courts, BBQs and pay TV to ensure workers have a wide variety of activities to choose from.

Berg told Australian Mining it was important for workers to feel comfortable in their home away from home.

“We hope to make a distinction between the work site and the accommodation to make sure their down time is as relaxing as possible. To do that, the accommodation on each project includes a range of features that you’d expect to be able to access if you were living at home,” Berg said.

Each facility also employs active lifestyle coaches to ensure the workforce is engaged outside of work hours.

They run social activities, gym sessions, weekend getaways and even personal fitness plans.


With the massive scope of work being undertaken on the three projects, the material being used on the island are impressive in its quantity.

Everything that goes to the projects must be transported by water on barges with the big equipment often transported in pieces and put together once it makes it to the site.

So far  the company has used  417 000m3 of concrete – enough to fill 167 Olympic swimming pools with concrete or more than eight times the concrete used to build the Q1 Tower on the Gold Coast

More than 13 Eiffel Towers worth of structural steel has been used, or 96,000 MT and 620km worth of pipes and 5,900 km of electric cable has been laid.

The island operates more than 2100 pieces of mechanical equipment from small generators, to heavy earth moving equipment to some of the largest cranes in the world.

132 cranes are used to lift massive modules that are used to build the LNG plants into place.

This year the company completed one of the heaviest dual crane lifts seen across the three sites for Australia Pacific LNG as it lifted and set a Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Absorber on its foundation.

The CO2 Absorber, which weighs almost 680 tonnes, required two cranes to move the cylindrical piece from a horizontal to vertical position before precisely placing it on its foundation.

Bechtel Australia Pacific LNG rigging superintendent, Warren Achilles, said the lift was one of the most technical projects his team has encountered.

“The lift was the easy bit. The hardest bit about our job is setting it up and making sure it all goes to plan, following the rigging drawings that we’re working to,” he said.

The team used a 1200-tonne Demag CC68000 and CC2800 crane to ‘top and tail’ the CO2 Absorber. As one of the largest cranes in Australia, the CC6800 took almost three weeks to put together and required 70 truckloads of parts and pieces from the mainland to be shipped over.

Some of the most visual elements of the plants have been completed, with three of the six LNG tanks successfully capped with the raising of their roofs.

Each roof, constructed at ground level on the inside of the tank and weighing in at about 900 tonnes, is raised on a cushion of air some 38 metres off the ground to the top of the tank wall where it is wedged and welded into place.

Berg said raising the rooves was a milestone in the construction of the plants.

“Visually, these roof raises are significant. It’s a great sign of the progress being made across all the sites.”


Modularisation is an important aspect of the construction of the three facilities, with the pieces built by Bechtel overseas and shipped over for placement at the sites.

Modularisation of mega projects components is common practice in the oil and gas sector and has been done with other major projects in Gladstone.

Bechtel manages module yards in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines with the facilities chosen through a tender process and managed by the company to ensure safety and quality standards are adhered to.

In total, 260 modular pieces will be used to build each plant: 111 for GLNG, 80 for QCLNG and 60 for APLNG.

The heaviest and widest module so far is a 2 500 tonne propane chiller, measuring 44.5m long, 31m wide and 29m high.

The longest module is 76m long, 24m wide and 19.5m high with the tallest module 30.5m high, 7m long and 3m wide.

The last module for the QCLNG plant arrived on Curtis Island in late October.

QGC deputy managing director Mitch Ingram said the shipment represented the first time modules had been built and safely delivered to a two-train project in Australia.

"The arrival of the final module is a landmark, 14 months since the first module was delivered and less than three years since Bechtel began work on our project," he said.

"This milestone marks the end of 10 million hours of construction to build 45 000 tonnes of equipment, signifying the world scale of what is being achieved on Curtis Island."

The propane condenser module will help to cool natural gas to minus 162 degrees Celsius, at which point the gas will become a liquid and be reduced to 1/600th of its gaseous volume, making it easier to store and transport by ship.

The unit will now be rolled to its foundations, aligned with adjacent modules, pipes welded and cables installed ready for commissioning.

Community engagement

Developing initiatives which aim to support the local community has been part of Bechtel’s activity since it arrived in Gladstone.

The company recently donated $50 000 to local charities through its ‘Safety League’ campaign, a program launched to challenge team to improve safety and recordable injuries while at work.

Thirteen teams participating have recorded zero injuries from June 1 to August 30 this year and in recognition of this, local charities received $5000 on their behalf.

Donations were handed to the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service, Rosella Park School and Tannum Sands Surf Lifesaving Club just to name a few.

“It’s pleasing to see our project use this is an opportunity to leave a positive legacy in the Gladstone community,” Bechtel’s GLNG project site manager Bobby Ferrell said.

While the company is also holding a series of sustainability workshops to help businesses which have held contracts with the company to transition post the LNG construction phase.

In conjunction with the GAPDL, the initiative aims to show how businesses in the area can diversify.

"We need to be encouraging those workers with those various skills to see if they can be applied in other areas," GAPDL chair Glenn Churchill said.

Bechtel Gladstone general manager Kevin Berg said supporting the local community was important to the company.

"The Gladstone business community has provided great support for us during the construction phase of these projects and we want to make sure they continue to be successful long after we finish building these plants."

Bechtel is also involved in a wide range of training and apprenticeship programs and recently won the 2013 Employer of the Year Award at the annual Queensland Training Awards.

The awards are given by the Queensland Department of Education, Training, and Employment and recognise people and companies for excellence in vocational education and training.

“Each month more than 350 people working on the projects take part in some form of accredited training that better prepares them for the job at hand and for the future,” said Alasdair Cathcart, Bechtel’s LNG operations manager for Australia.

 “The award is a testament to the joint efforts of our training teams and the people who pursue the training.”

Since the start of construction on the three Curtis Island projects, Bechtel has provided training to nearly 12 000 employees, with more than 11 000 attending accredited training programs.

 In addition, the company has partnered with the Australian government’s National Apprenticeship Program to employ 400 adult apprentices in the construction phase of the projects, representing the largest intake of apprentices in Australian history.

Looking forward

With work on the island set to continue up until 2015, Bechtel expects many more milestones to be reached before first gas is produced.

This includes concreting the rooves on the final three LNG tanks on the island, importing more modular pieces to finish the construction of APLNG and GLNG, and engineering work which will ensure gas is able to flow to specification.

Berg said 2013 proved to be a busy but exciting time for the company and its workforce with 2014 shaping up to be even more productive.

“2014 is a critical year for our construction as we move closer towards the commissioning and plant start-up phases,” he said.

“Our teams will continue to test components of each of the plants in early preparation for production as our construction efforts continue to move closer to commissioning and start up and plant tie-in.

“In fact, we expect to have first gas come to one site and first LNG production to begin over the course of the next several months.”

Images: gladstoneoberver.com; Bechtel; BG Group; Santos.

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