Laggan-Tormore set to go as gas plant flares at last

by Tom Morton -

Visitors to our little chunk of Northmavine often tell us enthusiastically that they’ve seen ‘Da Mirrie Dancers’, the Northern Lights, but oddly, more in the eastern reaches of the sky. And not green or white, but a pulsating, flickering orange.

“Almost,” said one tourist, “as if something was burning.”

It’s always a delicate task, informing them that what they’ve been viewing was almost certainly the vagaries of the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal’s flare stack, burning off unwanted or unused gas. It can be spectacular, especially in certain cloud conditions, with an almost apocalyptic, rolling colouration of the eastern hillscape.

During January, the fiery spoutings of the oil terminal have been joined by a wind-trailed stream of flame, at last, from Total’s Shetland Gas Plant, built behind Sullom Voe and running a year behind schedule. It was announced in late January by a Total spokesman that construction was finished, “and we are looking towards starting up as soon as is safe and practicable.” This will see gas from the Laggan-Tormore pipeline system finally being processed and exported from Shetland to St Fergus on the Scottish mainland, via the SIRGE (Shetland Island Regional Gas Export) pipeline. The gas being impressively streamed during January was actually coming into Shetland via SIRGE, as a means of testing the equipment.

Petrofac, main contractor on Laggan-Tormore, including the gas plant, have finally been able to start sending away the floating accommodation units that have become fixtures of the Lerwick and Scalloway waterfronts over the past two years. The company incurred extra costs of more than £30m on the £3.3bn project.

Total’s share of Laggan-Tormore now stands at 60 per cent, with 20 percent held by Danish company Dong Energy and 20 per cent by the UK’s SSE, bought in the summer of 2015 for £565m.

At a time when the fall in oil and gas prices has meant the questioning of some North Sea and West of Shetland offshore operations’ viability, the commitment to establish and develop Laggan-Tormore is part of a significant and continuing investment in the long-term prospects of operations on and off Shetland.

Alas, though, the spectacular flaring we’ve seen from the gas plant in January is temporary. When operating normally, the flares will be purged with nitrogen and the visible fieriness of Laggan-Tormore gas will be, to use a Scottish phrase, at a peep. Nevertheless, some visitors will doubtless still claim to be seeing those ‘Eastern Northern Lights’ of a cloudy evening.

Posted in: Oil and Gas