Shipments of LNG from the United States are set to soar throughout 2019 as the industry’s export capacity grows rapidly, up to 8.9Bn ft3 a day by the end of the year, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s Today in Energy’s site.
Simultaneously, four additional export terminals have received all the necessary approvals from the Federal Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy. Final investment decisions on these projects, which amount to a combined additional LNG export capacity of 7.6Bn ft3, are expected in early 2019.
As export and production capacity expands, so is the bunker infrastructure required by the global shipping industry. Shell, for example, will shortly be able to supply LNG fuel to cruise ships via an articulated bunker barge along the entire eastern coast off the United States as the fuel gains a foothold in the country’s maritime industry.
“LNG has been developing in the Far East and in Europe for some time,” pointed out Wärtsilä sales manager for marine solutions Bill Amundsen. “[But] development in the US has been lagging, the main reason being the lack of a reliable transportation link. The big question is: ‘how am I going to get this fuel?’”
Those concerns will be relieved in part by the articulated bunker barge on which work began in late 2017. Developed by Quality LNG, VT Halter Marine, Wärtsilä and Shell, the barge has a capacity of 4,000 m3. Shell has taken the vessel on a long-term charter.
“The barge provides a transport link from the liquefaction plant to the ship receiving the LNG,” added Mr Amundsen. “It therefore increases the availability of LNG as a fuel source.”
In a similar initiative ExxonMobil has plans to supply LNG to vessels pumped from a liquefaction plant in Jacksonville, Florida.
Taken together, the prospects are for a rapid increase in the 13 LNG-fuelled vessels currently plying the United States coastline. Another 15 are already in the pipeline.
Few predicted the rate at which the United States’ LNG exports would grow. At an output of 8.9Bn ft3 by the end of 2019, up from a predicted 4.9Bn ft3 in 2018, the United State’s export capacity will be the third-largest in the world, behind only Australia and Qatar. According to most analysts, the rapid increase in the country’s LNG exports is a major factor in the current spate of orders for LNG carriers that will mainly shuttle between the US and Asia.
America has jumped quickly into the top order. The United States only began exporting LNG from the Lower 48 states in early 2016 when the Sabine Pass liquefaction terminal in Louisiana shipped its first cargo. Since then, the EIA points out, Sabine Pass has expanded from just one to four operating liquefaction trains while the Cove Point LNG export facility in Maryland also began operations.
Meanwhile two more trains are expected to ship their first cargos within the next few weeks – Sabine Pass’s fifth train and Corpus Christi’s first. Both opened several months ahead of schedule.
Export shipments will accelerate right through 2019 on the back of new start-ups, according to the EIA. They are the export-dedicated Cameron LNG in Louisiana and Freeport LNG in Texas, both now in the commissioning process. First LNG is expected from these plants in H1 2019 and production is slated to expand steadily thereafter. Their developers expect all of Cameron LNG’s three trains and Freeport’s two trains to be put into service during the year.
And yet another new LNG facility at Elba Island near Savannah, Georgia, is on schedule to become fully operational during 2019 in what looks like an unstoppable momentum for the industry.