We are celebrating a major milestone for our Central Area Transmission System (CATS) facility on Teesside, which transports and processes over a quarter of all UK gas production.
It is 30 years to the day since first gas was received at the terminal – on 12th May 1993 – and throughout the years CATS has evolved to become a nationally-significant energy infrastructure asset that is poised to play a crucial role in helping the UK achieve net zero.
Kellas’ involvement with CATS began in 2014 when we bought a non-operated interest in the terminal, quickly followed by our acquisition of BP’s interest in CATS in 2015 making us the operator – and we have enjoyed a strong relationship with Wood, our trusted CATS operating partner, ever since.
The 404km CATS pipeline was completed in 1993, receiving gas from the two fields in the Central North Sea. When constructed, CATS – comprising the riser platform, pipeline, and reception and gas treatment facility (the terminal) – was one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken in the UK, second only to the Channel Tunnel at the time.
Increasing shipper production later led to construction of two CATS processing trains with the capacity to handle around 34 million standard cubic meters of gas each day. The first train went into operation in May 1997, and second was commissioned in 1998.
Fast forward to 2023, and the CATS system currently serves over 30 producing fields in the Central North Sea connected via a series of production hubs. Last year it delivered more than nine billion standard cubic metres of gas to UK markets, safely and reliably – the equivalent of providing heating to millions of households. Earlier this year, CATS demonstrated its steadfast commitment to safety by achieving 20 years without a lost time incident.
The terminal is also the site for Kellas’ H2NorthEast project to build a 1GW low carbon hydrogen production facility on Teesside, an area committed to becoming one of the world’s first decarbonized industrial clusters by producing, consuming, and exporting low carbon hydrogen. Co-located with CATS to leverage synergies, H2NorthEast will provide as much as 10% of the UK’s target 10GW hydrogen production by 2030.
Of course, CATS wouldn’t be where it is today without its people, and what better way to mark the 30 year anniversary than hearing from members of the team.
Mike Ward has been working at the terminal since the very beginning. He is the site’s Operations Team Leader and Area Authority as part of the Wood team, and he played a significant role in enabling first gas at the terminal 30 years ago. We took a trip down memory lane with Mike to find out about the early days of CATS and how things have changed over the years:
What do you remember from 12th May 1993?
All pre-flow commissioning checks had already been signed off by management, so on the day itself we were just waiting on a call from the commercial team. Along with another operator, Tony Russell, I was dispatched to the outlet ESD (emergency shut down) valve on the export line. There was a small gathering in the control room, including some folks from the London team who joined us at site, and once Tony and I arrived at the valve we carried out a few final checks.
The valve in question was a hydraulic valve and to open it we had to reset the solenoid in the control panel – this basically involves pulling a plunger-type device which gives the signal to open the valve. Tony and I were in radio communication with the control room and on receiving the instruction, with both our hands on the plunger, we reset the valve. There wasn’t any real drama except for a few cheers that could be heard over the radio coming from the control room.
How has your role at CATS evolved over the years?
I started out in a small operations team that was performing the final commissioning checks to get the terminal ready for gas flow, before moving into the operational phase. Since then, I have stayed close to the operations team – first as an outside operator, then a control room operator, before being promoted to my current team leader role which I have been doing for nearly 20 years. In 1995 I had the opportunity to live and work in London on secondment to the project team, giving input into the design and operation philosophy for building the CATS processing trains. Once design was completed, I went back to Teesside as part of the site-based commissioning team, before returning to the normal operations team when the project was completed.
What are your best memories of CATS from 30 years ago?
CATS is a lot bigger that it was 30 years ago and the team has grown significantly. The workload has evolved, faces have come and gone and ownership has changed a few times. But overall, it’s still a very close-knit, enjoyable workplace.
Something that really sticks in my mind happened on my first day. I was settling in at my desk and someone pulled up a chair next to me and started talking to me as though we’d known each other for years. Not knowing who he was, I asked around only to find out he was the ‘big boss’ from London and one of the team involved in laying the concept for CATS and securing backing for the project. Having come from a previous employer where, back then, it was more common to only meet senior leadership in negative situations, I was really chuffed that he took the time to chat to me, and I was pleased to see that the CATS culture was a lot different to anything I’d experienced before.
What does a typical day at CATS look like for you today?
Right now, I am the acting Area Authority for CATS and responsible for all day-to-day activities that take place at site. My day typically starts around 06:30 and I carry out administration relating to the control of work system, ensuring work permits are correct and available to allow for the maintenance and operations teams to perform the day’s tasks. This is an ongoing activity throughout the day to make sure permits are submitted on time and are fit-for-purpose.
James Biscomb is the Wood CATS Manager and has worked at the terminal for 11 years: “I have been in this industry for a little over 20 years and the culture at CATS is what keeps me here. Everyone is out to see what they can do to help understand each other’s problems and to come together to try and resolve them. It is our people that make the culture and I really enjoy working here.”
A newer member of the CATS team is Harry Dawson, who completed an apprenticeship before joining the Wood Improvership Scheme, which gave him two years of onsite experience at the terminal before becoming a full-time Instrument Technician which is his role today: “The best thing about CATS, and if you ask anyone here they’ll all say it, is the culture. When you come to CATS you’re not afraid to speak your mind and you can talk to anyone. It’s a very friendly and team-oriented workplace.”