indonesia paesaggio tempio

Merakes’ treasure

New wells offshore Indonesia, a project that is going to boost the production of gas in the Middle and Far East.

by Davide Perillo
08 July 2021
7 min read
by Davide Perillo
08 July 2021
7 min read

A subsea network of pipes, anchors, valves and control units connected to the main pipeline.  Starting from a depth of 86 metres, following a slope and continuing on to a canyon, descending to 1,500 metres. There below are the locations from which the gas is extracted. Indonesia’s five Merakes wells, which entered into production in April.

It’s a rich gas field, which was discovered in ultra-deep waters off the coast of East Kalimantan, the second largest region in Indonesia. We’re 45 kilometres away from another site which has been in operation for some time, Jangkrik. Put together, deliver 21 million cubic metres of gas per day. To the extent that Fuad Krekshi, head of the company’s Middle & Far East Region, referred to it as, “one of the key projects in Eni’s strategy for the next four years contributing to increasing gas production in the region by around 45%. In this way, Indonesia is becoming a shining example of how gas continues to be a precious resource for everyone, even during this global transition to a low-carbon future. Mr Krekshi emphasized: "Eni’s ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions 25% by 2030, reaching zero emissions by 2050. Gas is a clean source of energy: it reduces emissions and gives a strong boost to the transition. Despite COVID and the current market situation, in recent months we’ve been able to launch two significant projects in the region, Mahani and Merakes”. Mahani, located in the emirate of Sharjah,  commenced operation in January, “just one year after its discovery, and in line with the 2021 Strategy. Now that Merakes is also on stream, it has given a significant boost to production in the region."

An amazing speed

It took less than three years to get there, which is extremely fast, given the situation. “The development plan was given final approval at the end of 2018”, says Diego Portoghese, Managing Director for the country: “The construction phase began shortly after”. With the goal of adding new structures, wells and subsea gas pipe lines to the Jangkrik near field, “the field has been in operation since 2017; it has 12 wells at a depth of 450 metres, and, in particular, it has a floating production unit (FPU) which controls operations. Merakes was hooked up to the same FPU.” It manages the umbilical lines, valves and the control system for the two 18-inch gas pipe lines 45 kilometres away. 

It’s clear that the ability to rely on an already operational facility amounts to huge savings, in both financial and environmental terms. But the work required to connect it was not simple, and not only because it was done at never-before-reached depths in Indonesia, which itself is a country is at the cutting edge of the sector. “When the project was in its crucial phase, we were in the middle of COVID”, tells Portoghese. “We found ourselves with around a thousand people in the field at the same time and theongoing production from Jangkrik field, it involves collaboration. There were protocols to be followed including quarantines, and arrivals from abroad were affected”. It meant completely revamping shifts and schedules. Asking for (and finding, which shouldn't be overlooked) employees’ availability to extend their normal two-week shifts and reduce time spent with their families, because quarantine time had to be included. “For eight months, we worked on hooking up to the FPU, which already had around 70 bed spaces, so it was a sort of floating hotel for 550 people”. They would come and go to the plant, respecting bubble and isolation policies. “It reached the point where we had around 30 vessels in the water. A tremendous effort, greatly helped through collaboration with the local government. But it was worth it. We opened the door to a new frontier not just for us, but for the country as well. And we’re proud of it”.

The gas long journey

The result is a network composed of two fully operational gas fields, managed by a hub with enormous potential. “The Jangkrik FPU’s location is key: the gas arrives, it’s treated, separated from the condensates and is sent to our onshore facility more than 70 kilometres away”. This is what Portoghese calls “the entrance point into the East Kalimantan system”. From there, the lion’s share of the product, “from 30 to 40%”, ends up on the domestic market: “a lot of customers are in the industry. This way, they can make use of a resource that, in terms of sustainability, has a very low impact: it’s natural, clean, travels a short distance, and it is consumed immediately. There are no environmental costs for transport, as the system is highly efficient. It helps to cut emissions quite a bit”.

Any leftover gas is sent through the previously existing infrastructure to Bontang, the city of 350,000 inhabitants looking out over the strait of Makasar, which is known for its mangrove forests and its historic liquefaction plant. “It entered into operation in 1977, and it can also process volumes destined for export”, says Portoghese. Another component of the synergy on which the country relies, including in terms of decarbonisation. “The demand for gas here has significantly risen. What’s more, the quota destined for export is already close to the Far East markets, like Japan, Korea and China...”.  

Knowing and helping the communities

But here in Indonesia, as well as in the other contexts where Eni operates, it’s not only a business question. “Since 2017, we’ve been launching sustainability programmes with local communities. When I arrived to Indonesia two years ago, during one of my first visits, I met with local communities living near our operational sites. I wanted to understand how people live there and how our presence could help them. Besides trying to let them accept us, we aimed to support them as well through training and education on the use of renewable energy. We wanted our presence to be seen as a catalyst to build a path together”.

And what have you been learning along this path? What does it mean to accomplish such challenging projects? “I’ve learnt a lot. In our sector, Indonesia has a very particular scenario. The Country has been one of the world’s largest energy producers for half a century. Everyone involved, at every level, is an expert: in government, management, operations, etc. They all have advanced knowledge. There’s never a discussion when we're not all on the same page. For anyone in the same profession, working on Merakes is like playing in the Champions League and scoring a goal. It makes you proud”.

The author: Davide Perillo

Journalist, he currently deals with sustainability, social issues and Third Sector. He was director of Tracce magazine for 13 years. He is a member of the editorial staff of the Rimini Meeting (an international event for which he has managed numerous meetings), he was editor-in-chief of Sette, a magazine of Corriere della Sera newspaper and covered the economy section for L'Europeo. He has a degree in Philosophy and a master's degree in Journalism.