Engineers in Australia and particularly Western Australia are well placed to capitalise on opportunities associated with the booming FLNG sector, according to the nation's leading engineering body.

In its Our LNG Future: Engineering Opportunities and Challenges report, based on a series of workshops and discussions with representatives from industry and academia, Engineers Australia says Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) and associated subsea systems are driving a number of changes to the way LNG developments are undertaken.

The report adds that the engineering workforce in Australia and particularly Western Australia is well positioned to take advantage of such opportunities.

“The engineering workforce in Western Australia has a large number of skills directly relevant to support the installation, commissioning, operations, maintenance, ongoing development and eventual decommissioning of FLNG facilities,” the report states. “These skills are spread across industry and academia.”

Originally conceived in the 1970s, FLNG involves gas extracted from seabeds. The gas is processed, liquefied and then stored on a floating facility which is permanently moored over the field, before being offloaded to a tanker and taken directly to market as opposed to needing to be piped hundreds of kilometres to onshore processing plants.

Although no such facilities are currently in operation, four are set to be up and running within the next four years, including Shell’s $54 billion 488-metre long Prelude LNG Facility off the Western Australia Coast. International consulting firm KPMG says as many as 44 could be in place by the end of 2022, including 15 in Australia.

To be sure, FLNG does not offer the same opportunity in terms of design and construction of facilities compared with traditional onshore LNG processing.

Shell’s Prelude facility, for instance, replaced a previous proposal which would have generated thousands of construction jobs through the building of pipelines and an onshore processing facility at James Price Point on the north-west coast of Western Australia, where gas extracted from Woodside’s Browse Basin field would have instead been processed. The Prelude facility itself is being built not in Australia but rather at Samsung’s Geoje Island shipyard facility in South Korea.

Still, Engineers Australia says significant opportunities will be available in terms of the installation, operation, maintenance and ongoing development of such facilities, especially since there is a desire amongst all parties for local workforce engagement and an appetite for collaboration amongst engineering firms, operators and academia.

Moreover, as the first location in the world for the deployment of the technology at its full scale, the state has the opportunity to establish itself as a knowledge hub and thus to develop expertise which could then be marketed to companies deploying the technology in other sites around the world.

Still, the association warns obstacles remain as collaboration opportunities need to be fostered by all parties, organisations need to be given opportunities by operators to fill existing knowledge gaps, engineering firms need to be honest and open about their existing skill base and prepared to invest and develop required skills, and academia needs to produce both graduates and research which is relevant.

Other countries are beefing up efforts to get in on the action. Singapore, for instance, is providing $5 million to its national university for FLNG and is seeking to become a regional centre for expertise more broadly.

“If these hurdles can be overcome, it is considered that Western Australian engineering will be able to position itself to grow with the adoption of FLNG, including key world class R&D niche areas and responses to local challenges such as metocean conditions and remote operations,” the Engineers Australia report says. “If these opportunities are not grasped, however, the window of opportunity will close and the centre for knowledge of the technology would move elsewhere.”