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Alaska LNG project partners plan summer field work

Bill White

Sponsors of a proposed large-volume Alaska natural gas export project plan to conduct field work this summer to fill in gaps in their environmental and geological knowledge about the pipeline route, the project manager said May 30.

Workers plan to survey 37 streams, 17 lakes and 20 fisheries sites, said Steve Butt, an Exxon Mobil executive assigned to lead the effort to define the project, a joint effort of Exxon Mobil Corp., BP, ConocoPhillips and TransCanada. Teams also will cut trenches into the soil, studying ground conditions.

In addition, the field work will explore historical and cultural resources along 6,500 acres of the proposed pipeline route. They also plan to meet with nearby residents to gather traditional knowledge of the area and understand how locals use the land for subsistence hunting, fishing and food gathering, Butt told a joint meeting of the Alaska Senate and House resources committees in Anchorage.

The field work will focus on the northern half of a possible 800-mile pipeline route from Alaska North Slope oil and gas fields to a liquefied natural gas plant on the Southcentral Alaska coast, Butt said. The work will entail hiring 150 people, he said. The companies already have more than 300 employees and contractors working on different aspects of the project, including design.

The four companies are considering a $45 billion to $65 billion project, covering a gas treatment plant on the North Slope, pipeline, compressor stations, liquefaction plant and marine terminal.

"We're confident the project can work from a technical standpoint," Butt said. But a decision to build what he called a megaproject is at least three to four years away.

"If it was simple, it would already be done," Butt said.

Over the past 40 years, a variety of companies have proposed building an Alaska gas pipeline to bring the North Slope's 34 trillion cubic feet of proved gas reserves to North American or export markets. Butt's team has used some this earlier work to define what information gaps exist and where this summer's field work should occur, he said.

The four companies have dubbed their project the Alaska South Central LNG Project, or SCLNG. Besides a pipeline that would carry 3 billion to 3.5 billion cubic feet a day of gas — most for export but with off-takes for in-state use — the concept involves building one of the world's largest liquefaction plants at one of four sites under consideration along Alaska's coast. The companies have not disclosed the four sites.

The plant would superchill gas to minus 260 to compress the vaporous gas into a liquid that is more cost-effective to ship to Asian markets.

The plant's three production trains would have a capacity to make 15 million to 18 million metric tons of LNG annually, the equivalent of 2.2 billion to 2.5 billion cubic feet a day. Butt's team estimates a peak work force of 9,000 to 15,000 jobs during the five to six years of construction.

The project has completed the "concept selection" phase. The next step would take the project to pre-front-end engineering and design, or pre-FEED. The companies have been spending about $3 million a month since they came together on the LNG export project design effort in spring 2012.

Bill White is a researcher/writer for the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects, an office established by the U.S. Congress in 2004 "to expedite and coordinate federal permitting and construction of a pipeline to deliver natural gas from the Arctic to North American markets, and to enhance transparency and predictability of the federal regulatory system for the project." This article first appeared on the Federal Coordinator's website. Bill can be reached at bwhite@arcticgas.gov