It is unlikely to capture the public's imagination in the way Australia II's revolutionary winged keel did 30 years ago, but Royal Dutch Shell yesterday marked a key milestone with the laying of the keel for its industry-leading floating LNG vessel.
Barely recognisable as a keel when compared with that of Australia II, the massive steel construction was yesterday lowered into a dry dock as Samsung Heavy Industries' Geoje shipyard in South Korea, becoming the first of the FLNG vessel's so-called mega blocks to be lined up for assembly.
The other mega blocks that will make up the FLNG vessels' hull are being assembled nearby. More than 1600 of the blocks, which can be the size of a house, have already been assembled. The 93m high turret mooring system is under construction in Dubai ahead of shipping, in five parts, to Geoje for assembly.
Once complete, the 600,000 tonne FLNG vessel, which will be 488m long and displace six times as much water as the world's biggest aircraft carrier, will travel to the Prelude gas field in the Browse Basin, off the Kimberley coast, to herald a new era in global LNG.
Shell hopes its FLNG prototype will prove successful and adaptable to a raft of gas fields around the world, particularly in the Browse Basin where it and Woodside Petroleum are trying to devise a viable way of developing gas fields containing 15.5 trillion cubic feet of gas and 417 million barrels of liquids.
Shell will not reveal its budget for the Prelude FLNG venture, with analysts tipping a figure of about $12 billion. Shell hopes to turn its FLNG vessel into an off-the-shelf model that will ensure a drop in construction costs as more and more vessels are built.