The state of Massachusetts has approved construction of two offshore liquefied natural gas terminals.
The facilities for unloading gas from LNG tankers are to be located at points seven and 13 miles off Gloucester, Mass. The projects were approved by Gov. Mitt Romney in December 2006.
The state approvals were granted to Neptune LNG/Suez LNG and Northeast Gateway/Excelerate Energy. The Neptune project also won approval from the U.S. Maritime Administration on Jan. 30, 2007. MarAd is still considering the Northeast Gateway proposal. Both projects still need approval from the U.S. Coast Guard, but in three previous cases MarAd and the Coast Guard have followed the decision of the states in which the terminals were to be built.
If constructed, these two facilities would increase New England’s natural gas supply by 20 percent. Current proposals to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission include an additional 12 shore-based plants. MarAd and the Coast Guard are considering proposals for an additional eight offshore terminals.
In 2006 the U.S. imported approximately 12.1 million tons of LNG, or the equivalent of about 580 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas after regasification. The U.S. Department of Energy expects 2007 imports to reach about 770 bcf, increasing to over 1,000 bcf in 2008. The forecasts represent about a one-third increase in 2007 and a similar percentage gain in 2008.
The ramp up in imports should be well matched by an increase in regasification capacity in the United States. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as of January 2007 there are four shore-based LNG terminals and one offshore terminal operating in the United States. They are as follows:
• Everett, Mass., SUEZ/Tractebel-Distrigas of Mass. LLC;
• Cove Point, Md., Dominion-Cove Point LNG;
• Elba Island, Ga., El Paso-Southern LNG;
• Lake Charles, La., Southern Union- Trunkline LNG;
• 116 miles off the Louisiana coast, Gulf Gateway Energy Bridge-Excelerate Energy.
Both Massachusetts projects consist of two subsea submerged turret loading (STL) buoys, two flexible risers, two subsea manifolds and two subsea flowlines connected to a lateral pipeline that delivers the gas shoreside. Each STL buoy is designed to accommodate one ship at a time. Only vessels equipped with their own regasification facilities will be able to deliver cargo to these facilities, since the LNG must be returned to a gas form before it can be discharged to the buoyed pipeline.
Currently, there is only one offshore facility, Gulf Gateway (located 116 miles offshore) that can regasify and receive cargo from conventional LNG tankers. Two other deepwater regasification facilities, Broadwater LNG (Long Island Sound) and Cabrillo Port (off the coast of southern California) are proposed for construction in the near future.
The Neptune LNG/Suez LNG project would be seven miles offshore and would have unloading stations for two tankers. Currently, only on other offshore LNG terminal is operational in U.S. waters. [Courtesy Suez LNG]
On the transportation side, the worldwide fleet of LNG ships has doubled over the last five years. While all of this growth might sound like good news for the U.S. mariner, the reality is that of the 217 LNG tankers operating today, all are internationally flagged and crewed. According to Capt. Thomas S. Laird, LNG project manager with the American Maritime Officers union and former master of LNG tankers, there are another 135 LNG ships on order with the worldwide fleet projected to reach 380 by the year 2010.
Laird said that as the LNG industry continues to grow, the pool of qualified and experienced LNG crews has grown thin. He said that the biggest challenge facing the LNG industry is the shortage of well-trained and experienced LNG officers and crew. Laird said that the AMO membership includes many qualified LNG officers with recent experience. “In the near future AMO hopes to place American LNG-qualified deck and engine officers on internationally flagged LNG vessels,” he said.
In a Jan. 11, 2007, seminar on LNG shipping sponsored by Holland & Knight the keynote speaker, U.S. Maritime Administrator Sean T. Connaughton, stressed the importance of safe and secure importation of LNG for the economic security of the United States. Capt. Laird, who attended the industry seminar, said that MarAd is looking for ways to reintroduce U.S. mariners to the LNG trade and is aggressively moving ahead to foster initiatives that would get them employed on board international-flagged LNG vessels. During the seminar Connaughton cited a December 2006 agreement with Suez LNG to integrate U.S. mariners within the company’s chartered fleet.
That agreement coincided with the approval of the two Massachusetts offshore facilities and the January 2007 approval of McMoRan Exploration’s Main Pass Energy Hub in the Gulf of Mexico.