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This is the first part of a three part series by Ivan G. Rice with quoted inputs from Septimus van der Linden. Part 2 and part 3 can be accessed here
Here is the saga of how the first General Electric LM2500 aero gas turbine was selected to drive the first 60 Hertz BRUSH 20 MW electric generator for the Mobil Oil/Statoil 290,000 ton “Statfjord A” deep water North Sea platform (water depth 145.3 meters). The top decking alone weighed 50,000 tons, the weight of a battleship. The core of the story is based on the various Mobil and Statoil documents I have in my files and the daily entries I made in my consulting engineering log book as well as the various reports l prepared and submitted to Mobil Oil Company – all used to jog my memory. The Statfjord A platform is still in operation pumping crude and is expected to do so until 2020 since its start up in November of 1979. This is a very famous world renowned platform.
The original budget to build this platform was some $800,000,000 when crude sold for about $4.5 a barrel, but when finally finished it cost $1.2billion but crude had risen to $10 a barrel to more than pay for the extra cost. It was designed to produce 300,000 barrels of crude a day but consistently produced 320,000 of sweet crude to sell at a premium price. It was part of Phase I and set in North Sea Block 33/9-12. It was a huge success and made a lot of money for Mobil, Statoil and the other ten part share partners. The Statfjord A success catapulted young Statoil into the big league of oil companies and put it on the world's oil map. Statoil, a nationally owned company, headquartered in Stavanger, Norway and started in 1972, retained 44.44 % interest in the project and had the option to take over its operation after start up which they finally did. Mobil Exploration Norway Inc was given 13.33 % interest for its part in the overall design of the project. Mathew Hall Engineering of London was selected by Mobil to do the mechanical engineering part and the Aker Group of Norway did the steel top deck structural and Condeep the concrete part in Stavanger.
The selection of the BRUSH/GE LM2500 20 MW turbine generator sets, 3 in number, and the Curtiss-Wright packages was a truly pioneering breakthrough and a very significant game changer. It was a most interesting experience the writer had as a consultant for Mobil Oil that took place in 1975. Up till this time, smaller light weight gas turbines had been used including the Rolls Royce Avon for offshore service and the heavy duty larger gas turbines such as the GE Frame 5 units had been successfully applied on large platforms such as the Phillips North Sea Fisk platform in the English southern shallow water sector. The LM2500 had been successfully used for driving a fleet of US DD 963 type destroyers and pumping natural gas, but not to produce electrical power even though the aero power turbine ran at 3600 RPM to drive the fan for the C 5A Air Force cargo plane. This all changed. As of today, BRUSH has supplied over 1360 generators, all driven by the GE Aero based drivers including the total family of 2500s, 6000s and LMS 100s derivative spin offs and including those sold to Stewart and Stevens before GE took over and several other companies such as the pioneer C-W.
An account of just why Curtiss-Wright selected using the BRUSH generator for the Mobil package has been given to me by consultant and president of BRULIN Associates LLC Septimus van der Linden of Chesterfield, Virginia. He has related to me how C–W selected the first BRUSH electric generator for the first ModPod 20 R-R Olympus gas generator/C-W power turbine peaking package in 1970 for the City of Norwich, Connecticut. C-W was very pleased with the electric generator and the working relations with BRUSH. Then C-W started using these generators for all their packages, including the ones for Mobil. Other packagers started using the BRUSH generators as well. Later on near the end of this story, details will be given as relayed to me by Sep on the Brush generator for the Mobil platform.
Wen we think of the BRUSH company, including the writer, we think it was started by an English man by the name of Charles Francis Brush (1849 – 1929), probably because of his English sounding name and because the parent company is now located in England. In fact, Brush was an American born on a farm near Cleveland Ohio, got a degree from Michigan University, and started the US BRUSH company in Cleveland (Brush Electric Light Company) and a second BRUSH company in England (same name) with headquarters in London, both in 1878. He became interested in arc lighting and started making DC generators for this up and coming lighting system. These lights use to flicker a lot and he came up with a patentable way to control the carbon rods to eliminate the flickering. The two companies became very successful and he made a bundle of money.
He then sold out the US company to the Thompson-Houston Company in 1889. Later in 1892 this company joined the Edison Company to form the present day GE Company. He then retired and did no more electrical work, but the English company flourished under his name and after the Tesla/Westinghouse success with AC power in 1890s the English BRUSH company started making AC generators and other electrical equipment to help satisfy the rapidly expanding world-wide electric power market.
Today, BRUSH is the largest independent world wide manufacturer of electric generators and has three large plants, one in England, a second one in Holland and a third in the Czech Republic. A fourth and huge plant is now ready to open in China, all because of the American inventor/developer Charles Francis Brush. The company is presently named the Brush Electrical Machines, Ltd. or simply “BRUSH” with capital letters.
Beryl A Mobil Oil North Sea Platform with Heavy Duty Gas Turbines
After spending 19 years with General Electric as a steam and gas turbine application engineer, I joined De Laval in 1969 to become its Houston, Texas Deltex manager of packaging of aero gas turbines driving De Laval pipeline and process compressors. The first part of May of 1974 De Laval decided to transfer their packaging operation to Trenton, NJ and asked me to move there. Neither I nor my family wanted to make the move and we decided to stay in Houston. I had many gas turbine friends and contacts and therefore I believed I would have no problem in finding a new permanent job or becoming a consulting engineer.
Within a week of leaving De Laval, my engineering friends in Mobil Oil phoned me and asked me to help them out on a platform being designed in London for the North Sea, the platform being named Beryl A which was to produce some 200,000 barrels of oil a day. At first I turned Mobil down, but they kept calling me back for help with Worley Engineering to engineer the design of the installation of 3 John Brown/GE/BRUSH Frame 5, 20 MW gas turbine generator sets and one GE Schenectady built Frame 5 two shaft 30,000 HP Frame 5 gas turbine driving a train of 3 Clark re injection compressors. The two shaft unit had already been tested and sent to Stavanger, Norway and set on the Condeep 3 legged steel reinforced concrete platform, but not yet fully installed. The three key Houston Mobil Oil senior engineers involved were Bob Bolfing, John Leonard and Al Lobrick with Bob being the leader. Bob and John kept calling me back. They had selected the driver equipment for the Beryl A platform.
I finally agreed to go to London for a month or two to help them out as it was summer time and it had been a long time since I had passed through England during WW II. I was at the time chairman of the ASME South Texas section having gone through the chairs and was a member of the ASME Gas Turbine Division (later to become the IGTI of ASME) executive committee. ASME activity was low during the summer for the South Texas Section job so I could spend some time in London without any neglect of duty. Off I went to London. I left Houston on Sunday, May 19, 1974 and arrived in London the morning of May 20th.
In a month or so I had the engineering part of job under control and had witnessed the testing of the 3 John Brown/GE/BRUSH Frame 5 turbine generator units in Glasgow and had been to Le Harve, France checking the Clark reciprocating and centrifugal compressors. Low and behold Mobil Oil at this time had been given a contract with Statoil of Norway, for a 13.33 % interest, to design, build and start operating a much larger platform to be located in the huge and largest North Sea petroleum find in deeper Norwegian waters. It was to be designed to produce 300,000 barrel of oil. It was part of Phase I and was to be set at Block 33/9-12. Mobil asked me to carry forward the selection of the gas turbines, generators and compressors, the heart of the platform, and follow through with the engineering details. This would take at least a year.
After much discussion, I made a deal with Mobil. I offered to work for them 3 weeks out of the month and then be able to fly back to Houston for one week without pay so I could carry on my ASME South Texas Section work and that of the ASME Gas Turbine Division and be with my family. Mobil agreed to these terms. In the end I made some 22 first class trips back and forth between Houston, London and Stavanger paid for by Mobil. Working for Mobil was enjoyable and they all treated me as a full time employee and gave me a lot of authority and respect. I liked the work, but my wife, Carolyn, wanted me back in Houston on a permanent basis.
Mobil Oil/Statoil Statfjord A Platform with Aero-derivative Gas Turbines
Turbo Power and Marine (Pratt and Whitney) had been having meetings with the Mobil London engineers earlier in 1974 and also the Statoil people trying to persuade them to seriously consider using their large light weight GG 4/PT4s for their next platform, Statfjord A. They did a good job in convincing them of the merits of their large aero engines for the North Sea. However, the Houston Mobil engineers were strongly in favor of the heavy duty GE Frame 5s. I was caught in the middle. Mobil management of the Statfjord platform charged me with making a thorough investigation of the aeros and then make a recommendation as to their use.
They told me to spend all I needed and go where I wanted to go and dig deep with the investigation. After all, a billion US dollars was at stake. I had a young Statoil engineer by the name of Arne Erichsen to help me with the investigation and the report and I badly needed his signature on the final document. I wisely used him in this regard as the reader will soon find out. It was important to have the Statoil company support through Arne if l were to be able to have my recommendation stick as the Statoil people were in favor of the Pratt and Whitney GG 4 gas turbines and Mobil Houston engineers wanted the Heavy Duty GE machines. You can see the position I was in and that I had to come up with a thorough, factual and convincing report. I was given one vote in the matter and had to sign the final Mobil/Stat record sheets. The mechanical London engineering contractor, Mathew Hall Engineering, had one vote, Mobil Oil Houston had one vote, Statoil had one vote and Mobil London had one vote What a final meeting and vote taking we had. More on this knock down and drag out meeting that turned into a shouting match will be given later.
Work on the Mobil Norway report started in earnest about the middle of September, but I still continued to work on the Beryl A project as well. By the middle of October I was transferred over to the Mobil Norway Stafjord A project for full time and started making trips to Stavanger. I continued working on various power plant arrangements for Statfjord A applying all kinds of aero gas turbines. Mobil engineer John Schoentlhaler was keen on using the Turbo Power and Marine GG 4 and by the middle of November he on his own hired Lou Fougere, (ex GE engineer) president of Fern Engineering of Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, to make a detailed engineering study comparing the GG 4 with other types of aero gas turbines, in particular the GE LM2500.
By this time all the various gas turbine and compressor vendors knew I was making the study for the gas turbines and compressors. They all started calling me to take me out to lunch and dinner. I even got phone calls from my old GE Houston salesman friend Sam McKinney who was at the time Mayor of Belleaire, near Houston, trying to get me to recommend the heavy duty gas turbines for the platform.
On December 10th I met with Lou Fougere at his Fern Engineering office in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts and reviewed his aero gas turbine report that John Schulenthaler had ordered. It was very comprehensive and said the GG 4 materials used were every bit as good as those used for the GE LM2500. However, I knew that the GG 4 used carbon seals with a limited life of only 8000 hours before requiring an overhaul and the LM2500 used labyrinth seals with much longer life of over 20,000. I met with the Turbo Power and Marine engineers all afternoon discussing the GG 4s. I reported by phone to John Schoenthaler in Norway of the meeting. I spent the next day with the Rolls Royce engineers along with Lou Fougers discussing the Olympus aero gas turbine and then flew back to London that evening. As a point of interest, I had been to Phoenix, Arizona to attend my mother's funeral on December 7th. And after the December 10th and 11th meetings I was all tired out.
These happenings and meetings show how busy I was working for Mobil. On December 14th I attended a big Christmas dinner in Stavanger with my Norwegian friends to boot. On December 18th and 19th Lou Fougere and Walt Wadsworth were in London and we had meetings dealing with the layout of the aero verses the heavy duty gas turbines. Then on December 20th we all went to Rolls Royce in Coventry to see the Olympus factory. After all this activity, on December 22nd I flew back to Houston for Christmas. What a whirl-wind life I was leading.
On January lst, 1975 I was on a plane back to Stavanger for more meetings with Fern Engineering on the 2nd. They were obviously pushing the P & W GG 4 machine. On the 3rd I had it out with them and told them to lay off. I was getting mad and l said I would not recommend the GG 4 and would not consult for P & W while I was working for Mobil.
Saturday the 4th I worked hard all day on my report. Time was running out. The due date was approaching. More meeting were taking place with the gas turbine venders. More data was being accumulated. I was making many investigative phone calls to my US gas turbine friends and recording more input for my report. We even met with the vendors on Saturday the 11th. I kept on writing the report and working with Arne Erichen. We were leaning toward recommending the GE LM2500 with its aero 3600 RPM power turbine which had never been used to drive an electric generator before.
I returned to Houston on January 18th. We had been planning a US cross country field trip to visit various gas turbine plants and aero gas turbine installations. The trip was taking place when I was home in Houston. I planned the various visits, made the arrangements, got the private jets and made all the necessary phone calls to my friends in the US.
On Monday, January 27th Bob Bolfing of Mobil and I flew to Cincinnati, Ohio and met Johnny Miller of GE at the airport. At our hotel we then joined up with Arne Erichen of Statoil and Bernie Evans of Mobil, London. The next day we all flew to Deuluth, Minnesota on VP Gerhard Neumann 's private GE Falcon Fan Jet to visit Great Lakes Pipeline's Cloquet, Minnesota Station to see a GE LM 2500 and a LM l500 run, both pumping natural gas. We talked with the station operators and obtained much valuable operating and maintenance information. We then went back to the airport and met Turbo Power and Marine people – Dave Caplow et al and flew to P & W's Hartford, Connecticut airport in a chartered Lear Jet and checked in at a Hotel. We had a strong tail wind and flew at 40,000 feet at 750 miles per hour. I sat in the jumper seat behind the pilot and had a wonderful view.
The next morning Dave Caplow took us to their plant and were showed around. We were presented the story of the GG 4 C-l. We then visited Hartford Power and Light plant and saw a GG 4 running. In the afternoon we all flew in the Lear Jet to Calgary, Canada, but had to stop at Green Bay,Wisconsin to re fuel as we now had a strong head wind and could only fly at about 450 miles per hour. We had a long day so after dinner we all turned in. January 30th, the next day, we got up, went to the airport and took an Aztec Piper twin engine prop plane to the Princess Station and saw another GG4 C-1 jet pumping gas. On the side, the operators said they preferred the GE LM2500 much better than the GG 4. We then went back and caught the GE Falcon Fan Jet to San Francisco and checked in at the St. Francis Hotel, ate at the Fisherman's Wharf and then went to bed.
The next morning we drove to the Dow Chemical plant and talked with the operators there about their GG 4s – 9 units they had. It was then back to the airport to fly in the Falcon to Glendale, California. Most of us were tired, but Arne Erichen and Bernie Evans took off and toured Hollywood. This was a big thrill to them because of the movies they had seen. The next morning we visited the City of Glendale Power Plant. This plant had a Curtiss Wright power turbine installed driven by a GG 4. The operators told us about having bleed valve and control problems.
It was now Saturday, February 1st, the next morning. We went to the airport and flew back to Houston, Texas on the same GE Falcon Jet. Carolyn met us at the airport, terminal A. Boy, was I ever so glad to be home again, but I still had all my trip reports to write up. But first it was another party at Bob Bolfing's house and so we got home about l:00 in the morning. In the morning we went to late church and then took Bernie Evans and Arne Erichen to NASA in the early afternoon and to the famous Asrodomed Stadium.