Gulf of Mexico's Tahiti is an Island of Steel

Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Soon there will be more than one Tahiti in ocean waters, but this one won't be a romantic Pacific honeymoon destination with white sand beaches and mesmerizing waterfalls. Instead, this Tahiti will be Chevron Corp.'s 100,000-ton island of high-powered steel and iron floating in 4,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, reports the Houston Chronicle.

The company aims to place Tahiti above its oil field of the same name about 190 miles south of New Orleans this summer and, by mid-2008, begin producing 125,000 barrels of oil each day from more than 20,000 feet below the seabed. Tahiti's journey from discovery to production -- like that of platforms run by other companies -- has been a multi-year process.

In April 2002, San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron announced that an exploratory well drilled more than 4 miles below the seabed found oil at its Tahiti prospect. Upon further assessment, the company estimated that up to 500 million barrels of oil could be recovered. About one-fourth of the nation's oil comes from the Gulf. So Chevron began awarding contracts to design, engineer and build all the parts for the massive structure with an eye toward turning on all the production switches by next year.

Wall Street is watching. Tahiti is one of several long-term production projects Chevron aims to get on line next year.

Altogether, Tahiti's price tag will reach $3.5 billion, with Chevron at the wheel and partners Total of France and Norway's Statoil along for the ride.

Still, sounds of welding and pounding on pipes resonate as visitors walk up and down the stairs of the decks. The living quarters have yet to be delivered and placed on the top deck. And jutting into the sky like missiles are two bright yellow "king posts," on which platform cranes will be placed to eventually move food and other cargoes from boats to the platform and back.

Shell brought in a similar structure to house hundreds of workers needed to repair its Mars oil platform from damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Thunder Horse originally was slated to start producing up to 250,000 barrels a day in 2005. Hurricane damage in 2005 and failure of a manifold during testing last year pushed startup to 2008. So far everything is on schedule for Tahiti, but Mitchell said some bumps are always expected -- particularly when dealing with such intricate systems in the harsh, high-pressure deepwater environment. Source: Houston Chronicle

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