Longer than the Empire State Building by 150 feet, Royal Dutch Shell’s Prelude was floated out of drydock in August, 2013. It is an astonishing 1,601 feet long, 243 feet wide and, when fully loaded, will weigh 600,000 tons – six times heavier than the largest aircraft carrier.
The Prelude is a floating liquified natural gas facility (FLNG) with the ability to produce and liquify natural gas at sea in order to more easily transfer the gas to other ships which will then transport it globally. It took a year to build the two hull sections which were joined together; construction took place at the Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) yard in Geoje, South Korea. The massive vessel steals the title of largest ship from the Emma Maersk, which is a petite 1,302 feet long.
The Prelude will produce an anticipated 3.6 million tons of LNG annually from natural gas well pipes on the sea floor. The vessel is designed to handle category 5 hurricanes or cyclones with a sophisticated mooring system. A 305 foot turret is equipped with mechanisms that enable it to face the wind direction, thus absorbing high wind conditions. There are three 6,700-horsepower engines to power the ship.
The London Telegraph reported in an October 2013 interview with Peter Voser, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, that the vessel will launch in 2017 and operate 125 miles off the coast of Western Australia, northeast of Broome, for 25 years at Shell's Prelude field. The vessel will produce gas, chill it to minus 162 degrees C (minus 260 degrees F) at which point it liquifies. This liquified natural gas becomes 600 times more compact than it is in its gaseous state. The onboard plant will take only 130 people to operate.
LNG carriers will dock with the Prelude and bring this liquified gas to markets in Asia. Global LNG trade has doubled since 2004 and Shell expects global gas demand to grow 60% by 2030. By positioning itself as a leader in integrated gas (producing gas and processing it), Shell plans to take advantage of this market demand.
Worldwide, there are 40+ LNG export plants with a dozen more under construction. All of these are land-based. The LNG plant that is the Prelude is only one-quarter the size of a competitive onshore plant. Analysts estimate the cost of the Prelude at $13 billion (£8 billion), 50% less than the cost of a land-based plant. Shell plans to build several more FLNG plants. Malaysia's Petronas is currently building a smaller FLNG plant expected to produce 1.2 million tons annually and operate at its Kanowit gas field 180 km offshore of Bintulu, Malaysia; it will deploy in 2015. ExxonMobil and BHP are planning their own FLNG project which will be even larger than the Prelude and will also operate off the coast of Australia.
LNG World News suggests that floating plants of this type will facilitate the development of gas resources previously considered not viable, due to size, a remote location, or no possibility of onshore development. Prelude FLNG is a joint venture with INPEX (17.5%), KOGAS (10%) and OPIC (5%). Shell will operate the plant. Long-term strategic partners include Technip and SHI.
FLNG assets and activities will bring new challenges and opportunities associated with safety, security, and supply chain management. How FLNG will impact global LNG markets is not yet known. Many of our PortVision subscribers use AIS-based vessel tracking to enhance visibility to the movements of commodities (including LNG) to support operations, supply chain management, and even market intelligence gathering. The addition of floating LNG adds a new dimension that traders and supply chain managers will need to incorporate into their vessel tracking and related information management activities.