KENAI -- A storage facility designed to give local utilities more consistent access to natural gas throughout the year has been injecting gas into its storage reservoir, which should be available for the upcoming heating season.
Representatives from Semco Energy, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., Cook Inlet Region Inc. and First Alaska Capital Partners commissioned the Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska facility Thursday near the intersection of Beaver Loop Road and Bridge Access Road in Kenai.
The gas storage facility uses a naturally occurring reservoir nearly a mile below ground and almost directly under the Kenai River.
To access the reservoir, crews from Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage laid several thousand feet of underground pipe that connect to five injection and withdrawal wells adjacent to each other on Bridge Access road.
"Five wells allow up to 150 million cubic feet of gas per day to be injected or withdrawn from the storage reservoir," said George Schreiber, president and CEO of Continental Energy Systems, a majority partner in the gas storage facility.
The facility began gas injection into the reservoir April 1, and Schreiber said he expects the gas to be available for winter use.
"If you think back a few years we were all very concerned about the gas supply and gas deliverability at times of peak demand," he said.
The storage facility is designed to allow participating utilities to store natural gas during the summer for winter use, which Schreiber said will ensure natural gas customers get what they needed during peak use times.
"We've made a lot of progress, but don't get me wrong, there's still a lot more that needs to be done to solve the long-term gas supply and deliverability issues that our customers in Southcentral are facing," Schreiber said.
Senior project engineer Ed Scarpace ran several tours for the more than 50 people who showed up to see the fledgling operation.
He said the facility will go through four modes of operation.
"We have gas injection, which took place in the month of April, followed by gas compression injection. That started on May 1 and will go on until Oct. 1," Scarpace said.
In October, "we'll have a short shutdown, and then when the weather gets cold gas will start flowing out of the station and supplement the gas supply" for Kenai and Anchorage.
He expects gas to be withdrawn starting in November or "when the weather turned."
The facility is storing about 45 million cubic feet, but Scarpace said it is permitted to store up to 11 billion cubic feet.
The monthly average residential use is about 124 cubic feet, said John Sims, director of corporate communications for Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage.
Project manager Rick Gentges said it is rare for storage facilities to be so close to residential areas, but several things drew organizers to the reservoir, originally owned by Marathon Oil Co.
Taking over the reservoir from another company allowed the storage facility to plug into existing infrastructure like a gas transmission line that runs directly behind the well pad where workers were busy wrapping insulation around pipes leading to the well heads.
"We had a lot of good choices that's, I guess, the good thing here. A lot of times you don't have that. If you're trying to serve a specific market you may have limited choices, and that kind of constrains your design," Gentges said.
"This particular field kind of hit the sweet spot. It was in the right location, right level of depletion, close to existing infrastructure, and it was available."