Friday, November 7, 2014

Floating LNG

One of the main challenges of LNG has been the massive related infrastructure.  First, you need a natural gas field that can deliver enough gas to justify building pipelines, ports, liquefaction and storage facilities, etc., etc.  These projects cost not billions of dollars, but tens of billions of dollars "all in".

What if you could do the liquefaction on a ship?  Then you could locate the ship near an offshore LNG field, load the cargoes directly onto LNG tankers, and when the gas field is tapped out, move the plant. 

I attended part of METI's annual LNG Producer-Consumer Conference yesterday, November 6, 2014.  In the "new technology" panel, I was expecting a lot of discussion about gas-powered fuel cell generators, compressed gas vehicles, etc.  The head of Tokyo Gas did discuss these things, at a very high level, but others focused on upstream developments.  Someone from Anadarko just talked up their Mozambique project -- a sale pitch and not much about technology.  The President of Chiyoda gave a general corporate presentation on their track record in LNG.

But representatives of both Shell and JGC did at least spend most of their presentations on new technology -- in this case, floating LNG.
An image of Shell's floating LNG concept
Shell's Prelude LNG facility, whose hull launched in 2013, will weigh five times as much as a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier when in operation, and be almost 500 meters long.  The cost?  Guesstimated to be over US$10 billion.
The hull of its first FLNG, launched and in the water.
JGC and Samsung Heavy Industries have been selected to build another floating plant, for Petronas, (the national oil company of Malaysia).

These facilities could significantly reduce the cost of opening up new gas fields for LNG shipment, and could allow LNG to flow from fields that otherwise would not justify the investment for pipelines and an onshore plant ...  Of course, this will increase already intense competition among producers for support from major LNG consumers in Japan, Korea, China and India.

Of course, just as with Enron's infamous barge-mounted power plants (infamous because they were the assets involved in a dodgy asset sale/buy back at the end of a financial year that resulted in several investment bankers going off to prison, if memory serves), a floating LNG liquefaction plant also helps with political risk.  In case of war or threat of expropriation ...just sail away and moor at some other gas field. 

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