Smit Lamnalco: Challenging FLNG safety procedures ahead
- Business & Finance
Marine terminal service company Smit Lamnalco believes it has an important contribution to make as new safety regulations for floating gas terminal facilities are drawn up.
Group Business Development Manager Andrew Brown points out that although there is some overlap on safety issues between floating oil and floating gas facilities, there are also important differences.
“Floating LNG is a new way to harness offshore gas,” says Smit Lamnalco’s Andrew Brown. “We must work together to make sure that the LNG sector’s first-class safety record is safeguarded in the future. As marine service providers, we have an important role to play.”
Brown, the company’s Group Business Development Manager is charged with expanding the marine terminal service provider’s activities in far-flung parts of the world where floating energy facilities are set to transform the industry. Smit Lamnalco already supports a range of floating oil “terminals” floating production storage offloading (FPSO) and floating storage offloading (FSO) units – and is also targeting the floating gas sector in which floating storage and regasification (FSRU) units and floating LNG (FLNG) systems now feature. There are at least 15 floating LNG projects in various stages of development today, but this number could easily double over the next decade. Many of them are likely to be sited in relatively remote offshore locations – notably in South East Asia and Australasia – where the economics of offshore pipelines don’t make sense.
Floating LNG – in its various forms – is a new technology for which new operating procedures and safety regulations are still being drawn up. Brown is keen to see a collaborative initiative to hasten the drawing up of a suitable safety code and believes that companies like Smit Lamnalco have a critical role to play.
Global marine service companies like Smit Lamnalco provide specialist in-field marine support including specialist vessels and services. They are the first responders in the event of an emergency, Brown explains. In the floating oil sector, there are clear regulations and procedures tried and tested over time which, in the event of an emergency, would be implemented immediately.
This is an essential part of the service company’s remit. Brown describes the types of floating LNG facility. “First,” he explains, “you have Floating Storage Regasification Units (FSRUs) which may be located adjacent to a jetty which either provides gas locally for an industrial plant or power station, or is linked in to a country’s grid. Sometimes these are sited offshore and linked to land by turrets and pipelines. Either way, they are effectively floating terminals served by LNG carriers from which gas in liquid form is transferred. Quite a number of FSRUs are already in operation around the world and plenty more are planned.”
“However, we are just now seeing the evolution of a second type of floating LNG plant,” Brown continues, “which is much more complex and which will actually produce gas offshore where the gas fields lie.”
“This new technology will enable the energy industry to harness vast reserves of gas which so far have cost too much to develop. We are now seeing the first of these – Shell’s Prelude project off the coast of Australia is likely to be one of the first and will be the largest man-made floating structure in the history of the world.”
“Probably another 15 projects are on the drawing board. The number could easily double in the next ten years.”
“Even just 20 years ago, no-one was even contemplating FSRUs, let alone floating gas production facilities sited in waters many miles from shore. These floating facilities represent a new frontier in the international energy business.”
“They offer huge potential but they also present formidable challenges. As one of only a handful of marine service providers supporting the operation of shore-based energy terminals and FPSOs and FSOs, we are addressing these challenges. We believe that we have a significant contribution to make as the sector draws up a safety framework for the floating gas sector.”
Smit Lamnalco is one of only a handful of specialist marine operators with safety management plans specifically drawn up for shuttle tanker operations and cargo handling at FSOs and FPSOs. It is already a leader in this field.
But Brown is keen to highlight the differences between drafting safety management plans on projects involving the handling of oil and related liquids, and those that will be necessary for the handling of cryogenic gas – in other words, natural gas that is liquefied for transport purposes at temperatures of minus 164°C.
“The industry’s impeccable track record means that we have little practical experience of emergency response relating to an LNG incident. This makes drawing up suitable procedures even more challenging and requires all interested parties to work together on this task to ensure that suitable safety systems are in place.”
There having been no incident means there is no effective benchmark to work from. So experts charged with drawing up safety regulations and emergency response procedures can only work off “what if” scenarios.
Invaluable operational experience
“Smit Lamnalco already operates more than 200 vessels deployed in on- and offshore terminal service contracts all over the world and its operational experience will be invaluable in the drafting of new safety procedures for floating LNG facilities,” Brown said . Much work has already been undertaken but more remains to be done, he says.
“With oil and chemicals, we can learn from experience,” Brown points out, “but in the safe handling of LNG, we can only work with table-top scenarios, simulation and potential crisis management. We must be confident that our support and safety systems are fit for purpose in the event of an emergency and our crews and vessels are well-trained to respond to any incident. We have that confidence in the floating oil sector. Now we must establish it in floating gas.”
“Well, there are important principles that we need to embrace from the operation of FPSOs,” states Brown. “A key one is that of cargo handling. The industry is working towards cargo transfer in a tandem configuration. Most cargo handling at FPSOs is now undertaken in this way although side- by-side loading is still an option.”
A limiting factor, at least for the moment, preventing the transfer of LNG in a tandem configuration is the fact that cryogenic transfer technology is still evolving and floating cryogenic hoses do not yet exist. Moreover, when the first hoses do become available, they will have to be flexible – another technological challenge. However there are also other methods of tandem transfer which are being considered including A-frames, loading arms and other such devices.
“Are we going to see cryogenic floating hoses in the future?” Brown asks rhetorically. “If we do, then the marine service provider’s job becomes similar to the process performed today at FPSOs. If, in future, we choose to undertake LNG cargo operations with two units in tandem, then we will need the vessels to be relatively close together.”
“What we usually do now during cargo transfer at FPSOs is to have a tandem configuration and one of our support vessels on tow-back or stand-by duty to keep the shuttle tanker in position.”
“Perhaps the industry should consider the possibility of deploying shuttle gas carriers in future with dynamic positioning two (DP2) capability,” Brown continues.” ‘Then they could get really close. This would enable them to maintain their position close to the floating facility, allowing the use of either short cryogenic hoses or other mechanical devices such as A-frames and loading arms.”
“We must also finalise fail-safe emergency response procedures designed for floating gas terminals and this should be a collaborative effort with input from all sides of the industry, with particular support from companies like ours. These are already in place for oil handled at FPSOs and FSOs. And whilst there may be some overlap, the fact that LNG is a cryogenic liquid means there are important differences.”
Escalation of events “The procedures relating both to Emergency Shutdown Level 1 (where the transfer process is halted) and Emergency Shutdown Level 2 (where components in the system are isolated and disconnected) need to be clearly set out and drafted. We have to calibrate and completely understand the likely escalation of events in an emergency and how to prevent a situation becoming more grave.”
Brown believes that the fire-fighting capability of marine support craft is another area that should be considered. A key aspect here is a service vessel’s stability and her ability to maintain position whilst in fire-fighting operation. This is important, he explains, because support craft may need to create “water corridors” or “water curtains” for the safe evacuation of personnel. Support vessels must also themselves be suitably protected.
“Most importantly of all, we must make a substantial investment in our human resources. Training, training, training! Seafarers need to be 100% au fait with emergency response and evacuation procedures. Their training has to be developed and implemented so that they know instinctively what steps to take to limit the escalation of events. Training will have to include table-top scenarios, lots of simulation and lots and lots of practice.”
“At Smit Lamnalco, we encourage and incentivise our seafaring staff to follow continuous professional development paths. I envisage specially tailored training geared specifically to floating gas terminal operation. We need first-class highly trained individuals well-versed in handling LNG cargo and vessel-handling operations and we are making exactly those necessary preparations at Smit Lamnalco to ensure we can meet demand.”