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There is a lot of promise in natural gas. We've used natural gas as a cooking and heating fuel for well over a century. Natural gas is a key feedstock for the production of chemicals and plastics. With the application of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, incredible reserves of shale gas appear. With the hype of the seemingly unlimited supply of natural gas, our culture attempts to find new ways to use this resource.
Natural gas flows well in pipelines, and the extensive network of pipelines in the US distributes the gas across the country. However, the gas supply is so vast that prices are low, according to the law of supply and demand. Gas pipelines don’t cross ocean floors, and oceans separate many gas sources from the points of consumption. To get natural gas from the US or Australia to Japan, or the UK, the most economical way is to ship it in liquid form. As a liquid (LNG), natural gas takes up about 1/600th of the volume.
The massive plants that convert the gas to liquid use a system called trains that process the gas into a liquid. The first step of the liquefaction process removes substances that cause problems downstream, like dust, acid gases, water and heavy hydrocarbons. Chilling the gas to −162 °C (−260 °F) causes it to condense into a liquid, and it will stay a liquid at 4 psi. Once chilled and stored, it is colorless, odorless, non-toxic and non-corrosive. However, as it returns to a vapor state it can freeze flesh, smother breathing and becomes flammable.
In a liquid state, LNG is cost efficient to transport over long distances where pipelines do not exist, in specially designed cryogenic ships or cryogenic road tankers.
Shell Oil created the first commercial LNG plant operation over 50 years ago. Here is a great video of the LNG process produced by the pioneer of the industry. Note how Shell is developing smaller LNG facilities that liquefy the gas closer to production. (Hint, this will be on a quiz in a later article.)
Woodside energy in Australia creates LNG to feed the hungry markets of Japan and the Philippines. Shale gas, called Coal Seam Gas in the land down under, is a big business and attracts just as much NIMBY and environmental anger as the fracking operations here in the US. But the concern in Australia is not as much the fracking pollution as it is about escaping methane and other gasses that effervesce into the local water table.
This video is Woodside’s version of the making of LNG.
After the discovery of massive gas and condensate fields in Western Australia's Carnarvon basin, Woodside, with several other equity partners, developed the play into the North West Shelf Project. The A$27 billion Woodside-operated project represents Australia's largest operating oil and gas development. Development started in the 1980s, and production in 1984. The project is massive and continues to be one of the largest single production projects in the southern hemisphere.
Woodside is currently developing the massive Pluto discovery off the North Shore of Australia into one of the largest vertically integrated and symbiotic LNG production systems in the world. The gas from the offshore production platforms pipes through 180 km of truck line pipeline to an onshore LNG processing station.
The project processes gas from the offshore Pluto gas field, with gas piped through a 180 km trunk line to a single onshore LNG processing train with an annual production capacity of 4.3 million tons. It took Woodside seven years to develop the project into production, from discovery in 2005 to the first production in 2012.
With 90% of the equity and long-term sales contracts with foundation customers, Pluto LNG represents a major lift in production and revenue for Woodside. The company claims the Pluto project generated more than 15,000 Australian jobs during the life of construction and delivered more than A$7.6 billion in local content.