It’s the age old chicken-or-the-egg dilemma: Which comes first, LNG supplies for marine fuel or marine operations that require supplies of LNG?
With interest in liquefied natural gas as a marine fuel growing steadily — for both economic and environmental reasons — activity on both sides of the question is finally starting to coalesce. On the operational side, Harvey Gulf International Marine, New Orleans, recently launched the first of its new LNG-powered offshore supply boats and will soon be in the market for a steady supply of LNG fuel. On the supply side, Jensen Marine Consultants, Seattle, recently announced a new design for LNG bunkering and shuttle barges for LNG America, a new LNG supply and distribution company based in Houston. Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG), another Seattle design firm, also recently announced that its design for an LNG bunkering barge has received approval in principle (AIP) from the American Bureau of Shipping. The company can now shop the design around to potential clients.
The JMC design is still in the works and a classification society has not yet been chosen, but the list of candidates is very short, according to Keith Meyer, CEO of LNG America. “DNV has quite a depth of experience in LNG, but LNG bunkering is reasonably new for everyone, so a lot of procedures and practices that will be in place are just being developed.”
Meyer said his company intends to build four new barges for starters and to have them in operation by late 2015. Each barge will have a capacity for 3,000 cubic meters of LNG, which is about 800,000 gals. The gas will be carried in exposed tanks mounted on the barges’ decks.
Meyer said the LNG tank barges would serve two missions. One is direct bunkering of large ships, and the other is shuttling LNG supplies from Sabine Pass on the Texas-Louisiana border to satellite terminals on the Gulf Coast. Cheniere Energy will supply the gas to LNG America.
“Sabine Pass will be both an import and export facility. It’s being converted to export, fully approved, financed and under construction,” said Meyer. “It will most likely be North America’s first and largest single export point.”
Meyer said he expects OSVs and other workboats to refuel with LNG at the satellite terminals, which will be kept supplied by the barges. “The response has been very good in that there’s comfort in seeing someone actively get engaged in this,” said Meyer, “because one of the concerns of those interested in switching fuels is the availability of LNG.”
Although LNG America will own and operate the barges, it intends to charter tugs to tow them around the Gulf. LNG America will also build and operate the satellite terminals.
ELLIOTT BAY LNG BARGE
While EBDG hasn’t announced a customer yet for its LNG combo barge, it does have design approval from ABS. In 2012, ABS also granted AIP to a new LNG and regasification articulated tug-barge concept to Waller Marine, Houston. Since AIP was granted, Waller Marine said it has moved into the detail design phase with a goal of creating multiple variations for customers worldwide. Reportedly, the ATBs will have a capacity of 10,000 to 30,000 cubic meters.
“The entire AIP (approval in principle) concept exists to assist the industry with taking innovative concepts,” said Robert Whitney at ABS. “It recognizes that someone is chartering a new area and taking a new approach to solving a problem. We eventually incorporate the lessons we learned from the novel concepts to the rules and guides of the future.”
The EBDG bunker barge, a 257-footer designated EB-2000 LNG, is designed to carry 2,000 cubic meters of LNG. With a notch, it can be operated as an ATB or towed conventionally. It also features a diesel-fuel cargo tank for refueling dual-fuel vessels.
Additional design features of the EB-2000 LNG include a 10'×10' tankerman's office, clean decks and wide walkways to maximize crew safety, and forward storage lockers incorporated in the breakwater. An optional stern ballast tank provides trim optimization.