Every quest has a goal. Sometimes it’s about finding the Holy Grail. And sometimes it’s about doing something really difficult—like building an Alberta megaproject on time and on budget.
With commissioning underway for start-up in the third quarter of this year, Shell Canada’s Quest carbon capture and storage (CCS) project has achieved its goal of being ready before year-end while sticking to its $1.35-billion budget. Once operational, the project will be the first commercial-scale application of CCS in the oilsands. Up to 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 from the Scotford Upgrader near Edmonton will be captured annually and piped to a storage cavern 2.3 kilometres underground.
But before Shell and its engineering, procurement and construction contractor, Fluor Canada, could put shovels in the ground, they first had to tackle a major challenge: their own attitudes.
“We had to get rid of a little bit of that Shell arrogance, a little bit of that Fluor arrogance, and say that everything’s open,” Anita Spence, Shell’s project manager on Quest, told an audience during the Innovation in Construction Forum in Edmonton this April. “And then we had to be receptive to the ideas that came up as a team going forward.”
The old ways would not help here. Quest was working with a strict timeline and ironclad budget as a result of the heavy public investment— and attendant scrutiny—in the project. The province had invested $745 million and the federal government had chipped in another $120 million, and the $1.35-million budget had been settled on before Shell and its partners Chevron Canada and Marathon Oil had even sanctioned the project. Spence noted that costs often rise as projects go through design and development, but the team went into these early phases knowing they could not expect a dollar more.
The project team’s response to this challenge hinged heavily on modularization. For every hour of work done at the site, another two would be done elsewhere, according to Fluor project director Christopher Vertanness. He estimates that the total workload roughly breaks down into 400,000 hours on site and 800,000 off site. In fact, only five months of additional activity on site was required after the last of the 74 modules was set, whereas the same job might have taken eight to 14 months using more traditional methods.
The project was designed with the intention of maximizing the amount of materials that could be placed on the modules, and the result was a 20 per cent reduction in plot size. Overall, 95 per cent of the steel involved in the facility was part of the modules, in addition to 95 per cent of pipe, 85 per cent of electrical and 95 per cent of instrumentation. By pushing even more work from the site to the mod yard, the companies could do walk-downs on the mostly complete modules before they even hit the highway. Once at site, they could be placed quickly without much additional work.
The more compact design was intended to ease work in the field by decreasing scaffolding requirements and to allow for more efficient construction. It also saved money by decreasing the amount of pipe and cabled needed, although Vertanness admits that steel quantities did increase. Still, the overall reduction of materials used resulted in a 15 per cent cost savings, he says.
Much attention was paid to how the project was designed, but on-site activity also needed to be managed more efficiently than usual if the project was to come in on time and budget.
“What we did on workface planning on the project wasn’t necessarily anything new,” Vertanness says. “What was different was we made it work.”
That meant getting craft workers involved early. The various trades were involved in putting together their own workface planning packages, and there was a concerted effort to ensure teams on site had all the information they needed. A single field installation package for one week would come complete with drawings, materials, scaffolding needs, safety and permit requirements, and tool and equipment requests.
“One of the key feedback from the foremen was that the amount of paperwork was really reduced,” Vertanness says. “Providing [these packages] to them really allowed them to focus on what we wanted them to do, which is the actual work.”
The construction team was part of the project from the front-end engineering design phase. As the project progressed, the module yards would also provide input, particularly on matters related to steel. Constructability became a cornerstone of the design. It may have taken a bit of an adjustment for engineers used to having the run of the table during the design phase on other projects, but what’s the point of a great design if it’s too expensive to build?
Through a constructability program, the company generated 80 ideas and managed to implement about 60, Vertanness notes. Often, these ideas touched on ways to make the modules easier to install. If there were three or four pipes going off of one module, they would be consolidated to one area, which allowed the field team to install less scaffolding and more quickly connect the modules. If someone had a suggestion on how to do something in the mod yard instead of in the field, the project leaders wanted to know about it.
“We all talk about construction-led engineering, but we actually achieved it on Quest, and it paid off huge dividends for us,” Vertanness says.