Offshore natural gas resources are abundant in Australia. In order to extract these reserves, the oil and gas company Shell has implemented the Prelude project, a huge vessel carrying out the entire production process directly at sea!
The Prelude is not a common ship. With its 488 meters long, 74 meters wide and 260,000 tons (6 times heavier when its tanks are full), it is the largest ship in the world. In addition, it is also the largest floating factory. In fact, this giant, built by the ship constructor Samsung Heavy Industries and the oil company TechnipFMC Shell, is a FLNG (Floating Liquefied Natural Gas) which enables offshore gas to be transformed into LNG within the ship itself. With Prelude FLNG, the whole LNG process is done directly at sea. This vessel, which has no propulsion, is thus both an extraction platform and a natural gas liquefaction plant.
As a result, there is no longer any need to set up a liquefaction plant on land, as the process is carried out directly at sea within the vessel. It also removes the need to build expensive pipelines to bring the gas to shore. Here, the LNG carriers come to refuel LNG by directly hooking themselves to the ship. Prelude FLNG, which has 12 tanks, can store 5.3 million tons of hydrocarbons: 3.6 million LNG, 0.4 million LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) and 1.3 million condensates (light oil). In units of oil, this gives 120,000 barrels per day!
A new breakthrough for the offshore LNG industry:
Prelude is a true masterpiece of the hydrocarbon industry. Despite Shell’s particular discretion in this regard, the cost of this FLNG vessel is estimated at 14 billion dollars. It is a true technological prowess. Indeed, the liquefaction of natural gas at -162°C is more complicated at sea because of the constant swell. In addition, vigilance must be paid to the transfer of fluid between the FLNG and the LNG carrier.
Nevertheless, despite these technical difficulties, the vessel was commissioned in 2017 approximately 200km off the coast of Western Australia where it is expected to operate for the next 25 years. After this, it will be used for other missions on other gas fields for another 25 years.
In 2019, the first LNG cargo was shipped from the Prelude FLNG to Asia. For TechnipFMC, a stakeholder in the project, Prelude is a profitable project, within the framework of its onshore/offshore division which generates a 7% margin.
For the moment, despite the increase in LNG consumption in Asia in particular, only one other giant FLNG of this type is under study, mainly due to the drop in gas prices. However, let us remain vigilant to the evolution of these projects and the development of the LNG market!
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