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Shell evacuates workers from North Sea Shearwater project due to COVID-19

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Shell has had to evacuate some 85 workers from its Shearwater gas and condensate project in the UK North Sea due to a COVID-19 outbreak, posing an "additional challenge" to the project timeline, a source close to the situation told S&P Global Platts July 8.

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It is the latest in a series of setbacks for the Shearwater project, which entails making the field a hub for several new North Sea developments and redirecting gas and condensate by pipeline to St Fergus, northeast Scotland, and nearby petrochemical facilities including the Mossmorran natural gas liquids plant.

The COVID-19 outbreak is thought to center on a temporary 'flotel' used to accommodate the extra workers involved in the project, and comes as production operations were suspended in preparation for the launch of the new infrastructure. The shutdown was due to be completed in mid- to late-July.

The company has flown ashore 15 people who tested positive for the virus plus another 70 workers who were in close contact with those who tested positive since the first case was identified on June 30, the source said, adding: "We're working to maintain the current planned turnaround timeline, although the recent cases have added an additional challenge."

The North Sea industry saw a severe reduction in offshore worker numbers in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, but has reported a return to activity overall and an effort to catch up on deferred maintenance, with the uptick in activity denting production volumes.

A Shell spokesman said the company was prioritizing the health and wellbeing of those on board and "taking all necessary precautions."

In production since 2000, the Shearwater field itself has seen output levels drop, but the facility is due to become a conduit for projects in the area such as Arran, Columbus and Fram. At peak production, the wet gas export capacity of the Shearwater hub is expected to be around 400 Mmcf/day of gas, equivalent to around 70,000 b/d of oil equivalent. The project had been due for completion last year.

In June it was announced that Shell was to buy BP's 27.5% stake in the hub, raising its own stake to 55.5% and pre-empting a planned purchase by Mercuria-backed Tailwind Energy.

The other main partner is expected to be private equity-backed Neo Energy, which announced it was buying ExxonMobil's UK upstream business in February, including stakes in fields in the Shearwater area.