Construction of second Congo-bound FLNG progressing on course for start-up next year, Eni says

Italy’s energy giant Eni has confirmed that the building works related to a new 2.4 million tonnes per year (mtpa) floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) unit are moving forward in line with its timeline, which means that the unit is on track to begin working at the Italian player’s LNG project off the coast of Congo in the fourth quarter of 2025.

Congo FLNG; Source: Eni

Eni’s Congo LNG project, designed to exploit the gas resources of the Marine XII project with the installation of two FLNG units at the Nenè and Litchendjili fields, is said to be the African country’s first natural gas liquefaction project, which is envisioned to have an overall LNG production capacity of 3 million tons per year or approximately 4.5 billion cubic meters per year from 2025.

A year after a final investment decision (FID) was taken, the first FLNG unit, known as Tango with 0.6 mtpa capacity, started its deliveries of LNG to international markets in February 2024, enabling the Republic of Congo to join the exporters’ club. The second FLNG plant, currently under construction, is expected to be in operation by the end of next year, with a capacity of 2.4 mtpa.

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A new report from Greenpeace’s branch in Italy has pointed out that the second phase of the Congo LNG project, consisting of a second liquefaction unit currently being constructed by Wison Heavy Industries, appears to be delayed, as previously disclosed information the group reviewed indicated that the FLNG unit would come online in time for the export of LNG in the winter 2024-2025.

While the first shipyard in Nantong has almost completed the hull, the second shipyard in Zhoushan claims that the topside modules will not be ready before September 2025, thus, the NGO asked Eni to explain how the date would fit in with its forecasts of having the Congo FLNG II ready on time.

In response to Greenpeace’s allegations, Eni’s spokesperson elaborated: “Construction work on the Congo FLNG is proceeding in line with project plans. The topside modules are being erected at the Zhousan shipyard and are expected to be lifted onto the hull starting from Q4 2024.

“The hull will arrive in Zhoushan in October 2024 from the Nantong shipyard, where it is nearing completion. Once the modules have been lifted onto the hull, it will move on to the integration, commissioning and gas trials phases, and in Q3 2025 the FLNG will sail to Congo for the start-up phases scheduled for Q4 2025.”

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The investigation carried out by the Greenpeace Italia investigative unit labels Eni’s Congo LNG project “an initiative full of shadows, also useful for the Italian energy giant to hide and relocate part of its emissions,” with allegedly just 15% of the quantities of gas announced having so far arrived in Europe from Congo as only two loads have been shipped in five months of operation from the first phase. The NGO claims that this represents “a practically zero contribution” to the energy needs during the winter of 2023-2024.

Furthermore, the report also outlines that the Italian heavyweight is not producing nearly as much LNG as it had previously assured in its press release from October 2022, when it mentioned 1 billion cubic meters of gas from Congo in the winter of 2023-2024. Kpler data revealed by the NGO shows that the project only exported 150 million cubic meters of gas so far, some of which were exported after the end of the winter.

Eni’s spokesperson denied the allegations and said: “The annual billion cubic meters of the first phase refers to the LNG treatment and liquefaction capacity of the Congo LNG plant, not to the volume to be produced in 2024. We confirm capacity of 1 BCMA of the first phase of the project. Phase 1 commissioning had industry-top performance.”

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As Claudio Descalzi, Eni’s CEO, told SkyNews24 in April 2023 that the company had been “storing large quantities of natural gas” in Congo to be used as feedstock for the LNG, the NGO’s report questioned the validity of the statement given the lack of any gas storage infrastructure in the country associated with the Italian oil major. Greenpeace also pointed out that Descalzi was probably referring to well re-injection of associated gas into an active oil well to increase its internal pressure, accelerating its production.

While addressing the issue, Eni’s spokesperson elaborated: “Technically, gas storage identifies the practice of storing gas in suitable sites and then using it at the appropriate time, based on market dynamics. Storage does not necessarily have to have annual, seasonal, or weekly injection/production cycles.

“Storage facilities are simply wells and compressors, whereas the gas is still processed in production facilities. Eni in Congo has used some Mbundi (onshore) and Kitina (offshore) reservoirs to conserve the gas over time while avoiding flaring: the LNG project is one of the opportunities to use this gas.”

In response, Greenpeace Italy singled out the Kitina field, arguing that it neither appears to be nor is it supposed to be in any way connected to the LNG facilities and accused Eni of having a big problem” with flaring in Congo with the volumes of gas flared in the Congolese fields in 2022 supposedly making up 16% or 0.763 bcm of the total attributable to the company globally, which is 4.5 bcm. The NGO asked the Italian energy giant to account for the discrepancy between the flaring volumes estimated by the World Bank and those reported in the firm’s annual financial statements for 2022.

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Eni’s spokesperson underlined: “The volumes declared by Eni are measured and verifiable. While Eni measures volumes, other observatories such as those you mentioned deduce them from indirect measurements. […] The accuracy of our methane emissions monitoring and measurement system has been recognized with the achievement of the OGMP 2.0 Gold Standard coordinated by UNEP. […] Eni pursues a strategy that maximizes the value and expertise of traditional energy businesses, reducing their emissions, and, at the same time, accelerates the development of new high-yield and high-growth businesses related to the energy transition.

“The path that will lead Eni to carbon neutrality in 2050 consists of a series of objectives that first envisage zero net emissions (Scope 1+2) of the Upstream business by 2030 and of all Eni by 2035, and then achieve net zero by 2050 of all scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions associated with the life cycle of the energy products sold, both in absolute terms and in intensity. As far as routine flaring is concerned, Eni has set itself the goal of eliminating it by 2025. In addition, Eni adheres to numerous international initiatives, including the World Bank’s Global Flaring and Methane Reduction fund to help governments and operators in developing countries eliminate routine flaring and reduce methane emissions to near zero by 2030.”

According to Greenpeace, 2.7 million cubic meters of gas were wasted unnecessarily during the first transport of Congolese LNG destined for Italy, with a value of €800,000, equivalent to the annual consumption of 3,243 Italian families, releasing 8,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents into the atmosphere. The NGO’s criticism about wasted gas stems from the delay in unloading LNG due to the Gaslog Savannah transport ship needing to wander for 27 days in the western Mediterranean since the Piombino terminal had no free slots to unload the LNG.

The climate change-focused group is adamant that the vessel could have unloaded LNG supplies in one of the other regasification terminals such as Cartagena, Sagunto, Barcelona, and Fos Cavaou on the route to Piombino, which between March 12 and April 8 are said to have had 66 free slots, many of which can be allocated in conditions of free access.

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Aiming to shed more light on the issue, Eni’s spokesperson emphasized: “For the purposes of calculating ship emissions, it is relevant to consider the distance between two successive loads and not the distance between loading and the next unloading. In fact, a ship carrying LNG emits similar amounts of CO2 both when it is loaded and when it has unloaded and remains ready waiting for the next loading. Therefore, the wait for the landfill in Piombino did not substantially impact the overall emissions because the ship would have emitted similar amounts of CO2 while waiting for the next loading in Congo.

“In addition, during the commissioning phase of a project and in particular for the management of the first load, Eni has adopted the most effective solution from an operational point of view considering the entire supply chain. Already for the second upload it was possible to download after about 10 days from upload. The decision to allocate the first cargo to Italy is in line with the strategy of ensuring security of supply and optimising the integrated portfolio, right from the early commissioning stages of the Congo LNG project.”

While listing lower consumption, emissions, and costs among the benefits reaped as a result of no additional ad hoc vessel being mobilized, the Italian energy heavyweight’s spokesperson also emphasized that the decision to use Gaslog Savannah was made since the ship was returning to Italy from Asia via the Cape of Good Hope. 

Greenpeace Italy was interested in finding out whether Eni was in the habit of assessing a ship’s engine efficiency and methane slip levels before entering into a charter agreement, as ICCT data indicates that the methane that leaks from the engine, otherwise known as methane slip, can be 137 times larger than steam turbines with the same power in the Wärtsilä 12V50DF engines on board vessels like Gaslog Savannah.

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The oil major’s spokesperson replied in the affirmative by underscoring: “The emission of greenhouse gases by a ship carrying LNG must be assessed as a whole. Engines on ships like the Gaslog Savannah emit much less CO2 because they are much more efficient at using the energy released by burning methane. When the CO2 equivalent emissions are taken as a whole, it turns out that the greenhouse gas emissions of engines such as those of the Gaslog Savannah are significantly lower than those of a comparable steam turbine.

“Eni assesses efficiency and strictly complies with all emission consumption standards relating to the transport of LNG by sea. It also promotes practices to further reduce such consumption, such as optimising routes and reducing navigation speeds for less efficient ships.”

Eni renewed its membership participation in the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) in March 2024 as a founding member until the end of 2027, furthering its commitment to the field of low-carbon energy research. The company claims that this agreement demonstrates its focus on innovation and research as core drivers behind its short, medium, and long-term decarbonization goals.

The company’s CEO put the UK among the top investment destinations for renewable energy, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and natural gas after the firm launched the first carbon capture and storage (CCS) project in Italy with Snam in November 2023. The CCS plant in Ravenna is meant to cut emissions from hard-to-abate industrial sectors and, once operational, it should reduce up to 90% of the industrial CO2 emissions in the district.

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However, Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon denounce in the report, titled ‘CCS, yet another false promise from Eni,’ CCS as a valid decarbonization tool by arguing that carbon capture and storage is “a false solution” to mitigating global warming and “the fig leaf of fossil multinationals” like the Italian oil major to continue extracting gas and oil.

Based on the report, governments around the world have allocated $8.5 billion for CCS projects since 2009, with only 30% of the funding being spent because some projects have failed to start, while many others are either delayed or have obtained such disappointing results that they have already been abandoned due to economic unsustainability or technical problems.

Greenpeace notes that Eni is betting a lot on CCS technology despite the fate some of these projects have suffered, as the Italian firm is preparing to launch a new company that will group CCS activities. While skeptical about the outcome, the NGO acknowledges that Eni intends to turn Italy into the CO₂ hub in the Mediterranean on paper with the Ravenna pilot project and the possible French branch, Callisto.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace and ReCommon, which filed a lawsuit against Eni concerning climate issues last year, have requested a suspension of the legal proceeding. While Eni considers this legal action to be “wholly unfounded,” the firm disputes the rationale for this request, as it believes that it risks causing a lengthy suspension of the decision, that otherwise would have been expected shortly.

“Any delay would allow Greenpeace and ReCommon to continue their ongoing disinformation campaign, prioritizing media attention over rigorous research, analysis, and evaluation. This crucial fact-checking process, which should occur in court, is now postponed at the behest of the parties that instigated the lawsuit,” emphasized the Italian energy giant.