Up until now, an estimated 60% of the world’s supply of natural gas has been locked in hard-to-reach places, like the ocean floor. With Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) projects, that’s no longer the case. These revolutionary facilities—technological marvels built to process, on site, natural gas trapped under the sea and far from shore—open up gas fields once thought of as logistically and economically unfeasible to monetize.
The Petronas Floating LNG facility (PFLNG) Satu, for instance, limits the need for extensive pipelines and heavy infrastructures. And it also provides a solution to dwindling production and maturing fields, not to mention an answer to the ongoing energy needs of Asia’s big gas consumers.
Currently, the Petronas FLNG facility is located on the Kanowit gas field some 112 miles off Bintulu, Sarawak, Malaysia. But the project’s design and construction allow for additional options down the road—such as moving the project to other gas fields in the waters of Malaysia, as the need arises or circumstances dictate.
Though Petronas, Malaysia's multinational oil and gas company, isn’t the only player in the emerging FLNG industry, in December of 2016 its PFLNG facility was the first to produce LNG offshore. And it provides a good example of the revolutionary nature of this technology. A few statistics:
- Overall dimensions: 365-meters by 60-meters
- Hull length: as long as the Eiffel Tower is high
- Topside: 22 modules that comprise gas treatment, liquefaction, storage and offloading systems
- Production capabilities: 1.2 million tons of LNG annually over its 20-year design life
- Liquefaction ability: liquefies natural gas to minus 163 degrees Celsius using a new process that shrinks the LNG volume by up to 600 times
- Storage capacity: up to 177,000 cubic meters of LNG and 20,000 cubic meters of condensate
- Accommodation capability: LNG carriers between 130,000 and 157,000 cubic meters.
FLNG projects are in the works in other areas of the world, as well. Shell’s Prelude project—larger even than the Petronas facility—is slated to come on stream this year, tapping into the gas fields in the Browse Basin off the coast of Western Australia. The UK’s Ophir Energy is looking to capitalize on the offshore gas fields in Equatorial Guinea via a FLNG project. And the vast new offshore gas developments of East Africa offer enticement for additional FLNG projects.
The challenge of FLNG
Designing and building a massive floating facility that can take whatever the waves, winds, and sea currents dish out is no small or easy thing. In the case of Petronas, numerous studies and simulations were employed early on to ensure the safety and functionality of the facility for decades.
The mega-expense involved in both the planning and the construction phases of a project like that is potentially offset not only by anticipated profits, but also by other advantages. As an article in the Petroleum Economist puts it, “Using FLNG can circumvent the often-lengthy approvals processes facing onshore developments and reduce other infrastructure inputs, especially in parts of the world struggling with labour and equipment cost inflation.”
Floating LNG. The wave of the future.
The world’s need for clean, safe energy is sure to continue and increase. And with the way FLNG opens up new energy sources, it’s is on its way to becoming an invaluable tool in meeting that need, and a viable alternative to the bureaucratic and logistical complexities of LNG facilities on land.