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Shell Delays Mars, Auger Platform Repairs Due to 'Loop Currents' in the Gulf

Shell Exploration & Production Co. said last week that due to ongoing loop currents in the area, it has postponed flexjoint replacements on both its oil and natural gas export lines at Mars tension leg platform (TLP) located in the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, the company will also postpone shutting down the platform.

After locating the problem last year, Shell had announced that it had decided to "delay the repair operation" until late in the first quarter of 2005 (see NGI, Nov. 8, 2004). In January, the company said that repairs would commence on or around March 17, weather permitting.

On Wednesday, the company said a precise repair date is not known and it will continue to monitor the loop currents with the possibility that this work can begin in the mid-April to late-May time frame. Shell anticipates that the repairs will take an estimated 14 days to complete.

"These types of currents affect the safe and effective diving operations that are essential to complete the flexjoint repairs," Shell said in a statement. Loop currents form when a portion of the Gulf Stream enters the Gulf of Mexico through the Yucatan Straits, flow north, and turn east and south to exit the Florida Straits, forming a loop in the process. The loop current is a permanent oceanographic feature in the Gulf of Mexico and, at certain times of the year, can extend north far enough to impact deepwater lease blocks in the central Gulf of Mexico.

Located in Mississippi Canyon Block 807, the Mars TLP was shut in on May 22 last year when Shell discovered damage to the oil pipeline flexjoint. Subsequent inspections of the natural gas line showed signs of deterioration on its flexjoint as well. At that time, Shell decided to make temporary repairs to both lines while the flexjoints were refurbished. Production resumed at Mars on June 28, 2004.

Because of the Mars repair delay, the flexjoint replacement at Shell's Auger TLP will also be delayed until the June-July time frame because the work utilizes much of the same equipment and resources needed at Mars. Shell still estimates that the repairs at Auger will take 10 to 14 days to complete.

Auger is located in Garden Banks Block 426 in 2,860 feet of water. Shell has a 100% interest in the Auger platform and a 71.5% interest in the Mars TLP. It is the operator of both. BP holds the remaining 28.5% interest in Mars.

Mars currently produces 140,000 b/d of oil and 156 MMcf/d of gas. Auger's current production is 75,000 b/d of oil and 180 MMcf/d of gas.

Shell noted that inspections at both locations of the remaining oil and gas export flexjoints, as well as all flowline flexjoints, revealed no deterioration.

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