The operators of Prelude, the world’s biggest floating LNG vessel, are taking things slowly as they approach production 475 km off the coast of Western Australia.
Having opened the subsea wells in the Browse Basin, the operators are working up the giant facility in a series of test runs that produce and move gas and condensate through the system before they export the first cargo.
That eagerly awaited landmark date is probably not due for a few weeks, according to Shell which has a 67.5% stake in Prelude alongside Japan’s Inpex with 17.5%, Korea Gas (10%) and CPC Corp (5%). The oil major explained that it is focusing on providing a controlled environment to ensure the 600,000-tonne FLNG will operate reliably and safely.
In fact, working-up the FLNG to the current stage started eight months ago in a series of tests. First, the specially designed loading arms were put through their paces while the vessel was moving and LNG was being transferred to a tanker. The four LNG tanks, each with a capacity of 39,000 m3 were then filled. Next, the vessel’s utilities were switched to run on gas rather than diesel.
Since then, project director Didrik Reymert has been running the LNG plant through a series of dummy runs to guarantee they are operating to specification. The vessel’s nameplate LNG production capacity is 2.6M tonnes per year (mta) as well as 1.3 mta of condensate and 400,000 tonnes per year of LPG.
Energy analyst Platts has identified a small window between the end of January and early February for the vessel’s first load. According to shipbrokers cited by Platts, Shell has been looking for an Aframax tanker to load the cargo but the ship has not been confirmed.
Adding to the mystery, no destination has been announced for the maiden cargo. However, sources indicate an eastern destination, probably to Shell’s own refineries and plants. In the medium-term though, some of the cargoes from Prelude could end up in Asian refineries and petrochemical companies.
In the larger picture, Prelude is seen as one of the frontrunners of an important new and relatively low-cost method for supplying LNG because it dispenses with undersea pipelines and shore-based plants. Along with Petronas’ PFLNG Satu and Hilli Episeyo,both successful, Shell’s FLNG is pioneering floating platforms far offshore.
And others are following suit. Four more large-scale FLNGs are in the design stage or well advanced while others are under discussion.