I have already written about ships as workplaces, and of workers held captive on ships. Now, the NY Times reports on a massive floating refinery which is going to look for fossil fuels in the Indian Ocean. The ship is HUGE:
More than 530 yards long and 80 yards wide, it was constructed with 260,000 metric tons of steel, more than was used in the entire original World Trade Center complex, and it’s expected to displace 600,000 metric tons of water, or as much as six aircraft carriers. Even the paint job is huge: Most big vessels dry-dock every five years for a new coat, but Prelude’s paint is supposed to last 25 years. It will produce more natural gas than Hong Kong needs in a year.
And the reason it is now feasible to construct such a massive “facility” is because of the way natural gas can be extracted at more reasonable costs:
Right now it is under construction in a South Korean shipyard on Geoje, the island where Samsung Heavy Industries makes large ships and drilling platforms. Prelude is designed to take advantage of inaccessible or “stranded” natural-gas deposits, stranded because until recently they cost too much to make their capture worthwhile. In North Dakota, for example, most natural gas released from oil drilling is burned off because of infrastructural limitations and the expense of recovering it. “A project like this wasn’t an economical prospect for decades, but now things are changing,” says Francis O’Sullivan, the director of research at M.I.T.’s Energy Initiative. Owing to shifts in oil prices and a change in the climate of energy arbitrage, a vast amount of usable natural gas — an estimated three trillion cubic feet of it — is now profitable and waiting to be tapped within an area called Browse Basin, under the Indian Ocean, roughly 125 miles northwest of Australia. That’s where Prelude will soon be towed, then fixed to what “The Biogeography of the Australian North West Shelf” describes as “the relatively featureless sedimentary sea floor plains.”
A few questions come up: What about the people who work on the ship? Does the fact that Shell refuses to call the ship a “ship” and calls it a “facility” have anything to do with varying labour regulations? Or legal ones? What about questions of territoriality and the rights of exploration? Who owns the rights to this Browse Basin (other than Shell of course)? And what are the environmental effects of having floating fossil fuel factories and production lines floating on seas?