The momentum of liquefied natural gas as a maritime fuel is accelerating, slowed only a little by the present petroleum glut and low prices for traditional oil fuels. Operators and safety groups are busy preparing mariners for day-to-day LNG operations.
That process was covered in sessions at the Dec. 1-3 International WorkBoat Show in New Orleans, and a week later the Coast Guard hosted a major LNG conference for industry in Houston.
The Liquefied Gas Senior Executive Forum featured presentations on all aspects of the growing maritime liquefied gas industry, including LNG fueled vessels and associated bunkering operations. The event included a site visit to the Conrad shipyard, where the first LNG bunker barge is nearing completion, bound for Jacksonville, Fla. to serve TOTE Maritime’s new LNG-fueled cargo vessels in the Puerto Rico trade.
At the WorkBoat show, marine LNG consultant Robert Kamb – a 15-year veteran of sailing on LNG carriers, now a managing partner with Mystic River Partners LLC — laid down the three most basic rules:
- Don’t let LNG get out of containment.
- Don’t let LNG get in contact with air.
- Keep ignition sources out of the safety zone.
“When it’s inside tanks and pipes, it’s perfectly safe. Once it gets out, it’s a different animal,” Kamb said.
That requires a new kind of situational awareness for mariners. Tom Guldner, a retired training officer from the Fire Department City of New York’s Marine Company 6 and now president of Marine Firefighter Inc., laid it out with a classic “what’s wrong with this picture” screen image.
In the picture, a vessel lying at is getting LNG delivered by truck – currently the most common way to bunker gas, until distributors and shipyards build up the coming infrastructure of LNG bunkering terminals and tankers.
Around the ship are casual hazards. There is gas venting from the vessel itself, a downed safety barrier around the tanker truck – and what look like a welding generator and trucks parked a few yards away, potential ignition sources.
But there is existing knowledge and experience to pass on in training that will keep LNG safe, Guldner said. With some 135,000 voyages recorded for LNG vessels since 1959 there have been just eight incidents reported with no major spills, he said. “I can put out an LNG fire with dry chemical a lot faster than I can put out a gasoline fire,” Guldner said. “A lot of firefighters and mariners are surprised how quick you can put out an LNG fire.”
Now, the Coast Guard, industry and other players are preparing for the shift. It’s coming, with 100 LNG-fueled vessels on order – included four Carnival Cruise Lines ships – and 3,500 expected worldwide by 2020, Guldner said.
“For probably the first time in history, the regulatory agencies are keeping up with the technology,” Guldner said.