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Far FLNG Energy
Floating LNG Behemoth Pushes Off

The world’s largest ship just left its dry dock in South Korea. More accurately, the hull for the world’s first floating liquified natural gas (FLNG) vessel was floated for the first time this morning. The Prelude, as it’s called, is noteworthy for more than just its size (in fact, bigger FLNG ships are already under construction): it’s a key that will unlock “stranded” reserves of offshore natural gas.

Natural gas is transported easily on land via pipelines, but to transport it efficiently across oceans it needs to be cooled down in to liquified natural gas (LNG). The facilities that cool the gas are large, costly, and to this point are all land-based. So, to extract and transport offshore reserves of natural gas, companies have previously had to build underseas pipelines to the drill sites to bring the gas to onshore liquefaction facilities. That’s expensive, sometimes prohibitively so, which is where FLNG vessels like the Prelude come in.

The massive ship is expected to begin production in the Prelude gas field a few hundred miles off the coast of Western Australia sometime in 2017, but Royal Dutch Shell—the company behind the Prelude—has plans to build many more FLNG ships to send to various offshore gas fields around the world.

One such vessel might make its way to the Leviathan gas field, the appropriately named Israeli reserve in the eastern Mediterranean. Israel hasn’t yet decided what it’s going to do with the trillions of cubic feet of natural gas it will soon have on its hands, but if its relationship with Turkey doesn’t warm considerably, an overland pipeline could be out of the question. In that case, an FLNG ship like the Prelude could be very useful. Israel could liquify the gas on-site and easily ship it to customers like energy-hungry Europe.

FLNG is still some years away from becoming a disruptive force in global energy markets, but the Prelude, floating today in South Korea, could be a sign of things to come.


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  • BrianFrankie

    As a person who works in the LNG industry, I need to make a comment or two. First, a couple minor corrections:

    – Larger FLNG units than Prelude are not under construction. Prelude is one of three FLNG units under construction and by far the largest, with throughput greater than both the other units combined.

    – Natural gas is not compressed into LNG. In fact, LNG is stored at atmospheric pressure. Compressors are used for the refrigeration process, if you want to get into details, but a better solution is to use the word “chilled” in place of “compressed”.

    Regarding the substance of the post, it vastly oversimplifies the situation. Yes, subsea pipelines are expensive and complex pieces of kit. However, FLNG vessels are also expensive, more so than onshore facilities, and they have a hard time achieving the scale of onshore plants. Prelude will process 3.6 million tonnes of LNG annually, about 1/2 to 1/3rd of most new onshore developments. The only reason Prelude works is that the field being developed is liquids rich, so Prelude will also produce a bunch of LPG and condensate. LNG alone would not support the economics.

    FLNG is also a new technology, and there are numerous bits that need to be proven in operation and improved to be generally applicable. For example, Prelude is located off north Australia, where the metocean conditions are quite benign (other than the occasional cyclone). Thus it can use side by side offloading to LNG tankers. However, trying to use this method elsewhere may not be so easy. I not seen weather data from the eastern Med, but I’d be surprised if a Leviathan FLNG could use the same product offloading technology.
    All of which is to say “yes, but.” Yes, FLNG is a promising development, *but* there are numerous obstacles and cost pressures to overcome before it becomes a widespread solution. Expecting FLNG to be a “disruptive force” in less than 15 years is folly, and it is entirely possible it never becomes a disruptive force at all.

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