The giant Inpex-operated Ichthys LNG Project has hit a couple of significant milestones, with the start of deepwater pipelay work on the 889 km gas export pipeline (GEP) and the start of the development drilling programme.

Saipem’s deepwater instal­lation vessel Castorone is laying the 718 km deepwater stretch of the 42-inch diameter line following the successful completion in November 2014 of the 164 km shallow water section by the SEMAC-1.

The remaining 7 km of the pipeline is onshore, incorporating the beach valve and the final section to the onshore LNG facilities site at Bladin Point near Darwin.

Drilling also kicked off on the gas-condensate field, which is located about 200 km offshore Western Australia. The first development well was spudded on 3 February by the Ensco 5006 rig, which recently arrived at the field after undergoing major upgrades in Singapore.

The Ichthys LNG project’s offshore director, Claude Cahuzac, said the Castorone starting work “means we are now a major step closer to physically connecting our onshore LNG facilities to the Ichthys field, where our offshore facilities will be moored for the 40-plus year life of the project”.

Deepwater pipelay is scheduled for completion late this year and, when completed, the pipeline will become the fifth longest subsea pipeline in the world, and the longest in the southern hemisphere.

Overall project managing director, Louis Bon, added that the start to the drilling campaign came “after years of intensive optimisation studies and detailed planning”. The campaign, he added, will target the Brewster reservoir with 20 initial production wells, drilled into the reservoirs approximately 4,000-4,500 m (13,124-14,764 ft) beneath the seabed.

The wells will be grouped around five drill centres, each designed to accommodate 4-6 wells.

The Ensco 5006 will be joined in due course by Transocean’s semisubmersible Jack Bates to help complete the drilling programme. Both rigs will be supported with aviation and marine services, as well as bulk goods supplies, from Inpex’s dedicated offshore logistics base in Broome.