Australia’s resource boom means our biggest private investments are now in building the civil engineering infrastructure required to transform offshore reserves into liquefied natural gas (LNG). The $43 billion Gorgon project, for example, is the single largest resource project in Australia’s history. It is one of $120 billion worth of LNG projects currently under construction off the northwest coast of Australia.
Installing oil and gas infrastructure off Australia’s coasts is challenging and costly because of our carbonate seabed soils. In addition, generic Gulf of Mexico and North Sea operating technology do not transition well to our unique soils. These challenges have been the genesis for UWA's Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems.
My research develops practical models for use in the engineering design and assessment of offshore infrastructure, such as oil and gas platforms, seabed foundations, anchors and pipeline systems. I use observations from sophisticated experiments to create simplified, practical design formulas and analysis software.
As an Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Fellow, I work with a team to conquer new frontiers in offshore gas extraction, which involves ever-deeper water and more complex and uncertain seabed conditions. The geotechnical foundations and anchors required in these environments are mobile and suffer major transitions during installation and operation. Our team works to enable the safe and economic construction of Australia’s next generation of offshore infrastructure, securing long-term energy sources for our future prosperity.
I am passionate about building state of the art physical testing facilities at UWA. We currently operate geotechnical centrifuges capable of accelerating up to 400 gravities. This equipment has been essential in the analysis and design of offshore foundations because the sheer size of offshore engineering structures means you can’t perform full-scale physical tests. you need to create small-scale simulations to analyse stability safely and lower the risk of collapse in offshore anchors, pipelines, platforms, risers, foundations and manifolds.
With the help of the ARC, UWA is enhancing Australia’s testing capabilities by commissioning a new centrifuge, the largest in the southern hemisphere. We are empowering Australia’s knowledge industry and contributing to Perth’s growth as an international oil and gas hub. There is intense competition in this area and many of our competitors around the world have the advantage of cheaper engineering labour and local rig-building capacity.
Australia must raise its intellectual capital through high-level research, new facilities and by fostering the great minds of the future if we are to lead in this area.
- Winthrop Professor Mark Cassidy, Director Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems and UWA Oceans Institute.