Image Courtesy of Black & Veatch

Natural-gas liquefaction and gasification plants are huge, expensive and, up until now, land-based. However, in July 2012, Black & Veatch (No. 14) and Shanghai-based shipbuilder and engineering firm Wison Offshore & Marine Ltd. won a contract to design and construct the world's first floating LNG (FLNG) liquefaction, regasification and storage unit.

The ship is being constructed in Nantong, China, and will be floated to the Pacific Coast of Colombia, where it will process gas from the La Creciente gas field, located in the Lower Magdalena Valley Basin. The gas field is owned by Colombia's Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. The ship will be owned and operated by Dutch-based oil-and-gas shipping company EXMAR. The EXMAR EXPORT (rendered above), as the ship will be named, is scheduled to start production by the end of 2014.

"We were chosen because of our long history of designing LNG facilities," says Dean Oskvig, president and CEO of Black & Veatch's energy division. He notes that B&V is using its patented PRICO LNG technology, which he says is particularly adaptable to small and medium-sized LNG plants. Wison will be designing the ship, while B&V will be designing the upper LNG processing part of the ship. Oskvig believes this project will be the first of several such floating LNG plants the company designs.

There are several advantages to floating LNG production facilities. There is no land footprint, and they make less of an environmental impact. Further, technology now allows for safe ship-to-ship offloading of LNG, eliminating the need for land-based export terminals and pipelines. Finally, the FLNG plants can be floated to remote parts of the ocean to make available otherwise inaccessible gas fields.

There are other proposed FLNG ships in the works, including Royal Dutch Shell's Prelude FLNG, which began construction last October. France's Technip and Korea's Samsung Heavy Industries are working on that ship, which will anchor off Australia's northwest coast. On April 2, ExxonMobil and BHP Billiton of Australia submitted plans to Australia's Environmental Dept. to build another large FLNG.