Harvey Gulf LNG Fuelling Facility, US offshore capitcal finally get its own gas pump

US offshore capital finally get its own gas pump

Harvey Gulf’s pioneering onshore fuel facility sees North America catch up with Europe, Asia and South America in LNG bunkering. Will it soon be powering ahead?

Text: RICHARD ORANGE & PAUL CONNOLLY  Photo: WÄRTSILÄ

Wärtsilä has successfully commissioned the control systems at North America’s first shore-based liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuelling facility, in a landmark for the development of an infrastructure for the emerging fuel.

The facility, at Port Fourchon in the state of Louisiana, cuts the time US oil services company Harvey Gulf International Marine requires to refuel itsdual-fuel LNG offshore vessels from as much as a day to less than two and a half hours.

It will alsoto provide a possible fuel source for other offshore vesselsand LNG-fuelled cargo ships operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

The facility, ordered on July 2014, saw its first use on 29 January, when it transferred more than 160,000 litres of LNG to the offshore vessel Harvey Energy.

Øyvind Dale, Project Manager for Wärtsilä Marine Solutions’s Electrical and Automation division, said that control system, the first supplied by Wärtsilä for an onshore fuelling facility, allowed the process to be controlled from onboard the vessel, making it both safer and more efficient.

“The main benefit is the speed of bunkering vessels,” he said. “It makes the fuel easily accessible. You can bunker whenever the vessel is entering the port and you don’t have to plan a convoy of trucks.”

The facility can store over a million litres of LNG in three tanks, which are replenished using trucks, and can deliver fuel at a pumping rate of 550 gallons per minute (GPM), much faster than possible using the pumps on the trucks previously used.

Wärtsilä’s system is based around three programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and a set of marine approved computers using citect SCADA hmi software, which operate programmed sequences of valves and pumps in response to information received from detectors and sensors placed around the ship and facility.

Wärtsilä supplied PLCs from Schneider for operating the process, together with two independent safety PLCs from Wago, each of which are programmed to automatically return the plant to a safe state should any hazards be detected.

“There are gas detectors, heat and fire and smoke detectors, pressure sensors and manual shutdown buttons strategically placed around the installation,” said Sven Askild Salomonsen, the vessel automation expert at Wärtsilä behind the project. “If these are triggered the safety PLCs will put the installation in a safe state.”

The user interface, adapted from Wärtsilä’s LNGPac gas handling system for LNG-fuelled vessels, can be accessed either from a series of computers located around the facility, or from a laptop that can be brought onboard to run the bunkering operation from the vessel.

The next step, Dale argued, would be to integrate the interface into the vessel’s own onboard automation systems.

“You would then have a fully integrated ship-to-shore bunkering system where you remotely operate the plant, maintaining all the safety precautions you need,” he said.

New Orleans-based Harvey Gulf has pioneered the use of LNG as a marine fuel in the US, spotting early on that the growth of shale gas production in the US, together with the tougher emissions requirements brought in with the 2012 North America Emission Control Area (ECA), would bring LNG competitive advantages.

Shane Guidry, the company's chairman and chief executive, said that the facility would further advance the company’s adoption of a “clean, abundant, and cost-effective alternative marine fuel”.

“We are able to provide a LNG bunkering point at the epicenter of marine operations for the Gulf of Mexico, which is vital to continuing the shift to LNG as a marine fuel,” he said.

Operating on LNG, Harvey Power and Harvey Energy can continue supplying the Gulf of Mexico rigs operated by the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell for 19 days in between refueling, bringing them a significant operational advantage over the competition.

Port Fourchon, Louisiana’s southernmost port, is the main port for the offshore oil business in the Gulf of Mexico, servicing over 90% of deepwater production. Now a fuelling facility is in place, other offshore companies are likely to follow Harvey Gulf’s lead.

“It’s a great step forward because it’s the first bunkering facility in the region,” said Ola Joslin, an independent LNG bunkering consultant based in Stockholm, Sweden, who added that North America had now caught up with Europe, Asia and South America, all of which already have their first LNG bunkering facilities.

Norway led the way in 1996, building a set of LNG bunkering facilities for ferries plying the fjords, but other countries have caught up over the past few years, with LNG bunkering now available at the ports of Antwerp, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Zeebrugge and Stockholm.

In South America, ferry company Buquebus has built an LNG nano-station to supply the ship it operates between Montevideo and Buenos Aires. In Asia, an LNG bunkering station was opened at the South Korean port of Incheon in 2013, also to power an LNG ferry.

As an executive at the Port of Stockholm, Joslin was responsible for the LNG bunker vessel developed to fuel Viking Grace, the world’s largest LNG-fuelled ferry, for which Wärtsilä delivered both the dualfuel engines and the the LNGPac automation system.

Joslin said that with more than 100 LNG-fuelled ships currently on order, the Harvey Gulf facility was likely to be the first of many on the US coast.

“I see it developing quite rapidly: as more and more LNG fuelled ships are ordered, they need to bunker somewhere. I think you should compare it with what happened to coal-fuelled steamers when oil-fuelled ships came in about the time of the First World War.”

He noted that Harvey Gulf’s facility, like the Stockholm bunker barge, used quick-connect, drop-free couplings similar to those used in the refuelling of aircraft, minimising leakage of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Together with the redundant safety PLC, this was one of a string of measures required to meet the exacting requirements of the US Coast Guard, which regulates onshore fuelling facilities.

Harvey Gulf had to work closely with the State of Louisiana, the US Department of Energy, and the US Coast Guard to develop procedures for safe operation of the facility. Now that regulations are in place, some experts predict that North America will see rapid development, eclipsing Europe in its adoption of LNG as a fuel within just a few years.

According to Dale, the new US requirements are in many ways more demanding than those required by class society organisations such as Lloyds Register and Bureau Veritas. But the Wärtsilä’s design will require only small adaptations to meet the regulatory requirements of other countries and industries.

“We are making LNG as a fuel accessible to new sets of consumers,” Dale said. “We have made a system which can be adapted to almost any configuration and any use. This is not limited to the marine business, we could use this for the supply of LNG-fuelled power plants.”

Further reading: Wärtsilä to supply control system for Harvey Gulf shore-based LNG fuelling facility

LNG frontrunner inspires US market

A key industry award put Harvey Gulf’s LNG ships on the marine market map last year, rewarding the company’s unfaltering dedication to gas as the fuel of the future.

Harvey Gulf’s commitment to LNG has not gone unnoticed. At the end of last year, its LNG-fuelled offshore supply vessels topped the Workboat Significant Boats list compiled by industry insiders Workboat Magazine.

Fitted with Wärtsilä’s 34DF engines, the dual-fuel Harvey Energy and Harvey Power, became the first LNG-fuelled OSVs in North America. They are fuelled by truck in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, the capital of the US offshore industry.

The company has long been a keen campaigner for LNG, echoing Wärtsilä’s John Hatley’s point that liquefied natural gas offers “the path of least resistance through the emissions quagmire”.

Already in 2013, at an event hosted by the magazine, Harvey Gulf CFO Jeff Hendersson, sung Wärtsilä and LNG’s praises. “[Wärtsilä] recently opened up a Norwegian vessel that had gone 20,000 hours, run solely on LNG,” he said. “They took a cloth and wiped the inside of that engine and it came off clean, there was no carbon residue.”

Yet just like the Norwegian ship owners Eidesvik, who built the world’s first LNG OSV more than a decade ago, Harvey Gulf had to work alongside the local authorities to develop new safety regulations.

Yet regulations weren’t the only hurdle; so was infrastructure – which the industry, as well as analysts, still believes to be a key hurdle for some would-be investors.

Two years ago, Henderson addressed this worry. “You can’t just pull up to the dock at Port Fourchon and pump gas. [People] feel if they build a LNG vessel they put this additional cost at the front end [and] if they can’t fuel they’ll end up using diesel.”

The hope is that environmental legislation and a focus on efficiency will drive up demand of LNG to the point where investment in new infrastructure becomes a no brainer. The question is just when the marine market will reach the tipping point?

In the meantime, frontrunners have to go it alone.

“Harvey Gulf knew it was taking a risk,” says Chad Verret, Harvey Gulf International’s Executive Vice President for LNG and Alaska Operations. “But we made it a point to mitigate as much risk as possible by extremely hard work, attention to detail, working closely with regulatory bodies, and selecting the right partners. Wärtsilä has been an outstanding partner.”

John Hatley, Wärtsilä Director Market Shaping, Marine Solutions, believes the Workboat of the Year award, announced at the 2015 International Workboat Show in New Orleans in December 2015, made perfect sense.

“I think to anyone who works in the industry, it was obvious that Harvey Gulf’s efforts made them the clear winner, not of workboat of the year, but workboat of the decade,” he says.

But knowledge about LNG needs to improve, as does insight into the potential of the market.

“I still meet sellers of gas who have no idea about the marine market, they still think the truck market is the place,” Hatley says. “But one truck uses 100,000 litres of LNG a year. One ship can use that in a day!”

Yet Hatley doesn’t despair, far from it, he thinks the marine market’s on the verge of yet another paradigm shift. He offers a historical parallel:

“In the 1940s there were 25,000 steam-driven railroad locomotives in north America. By 1956 the vast majority of those steam locomotives had been replaced by diesel-fuelled stock,” he points out.

“That [type of shift] may well happen in the marine market but with diesel being replaced by LNG. LNG is cheaper than diesel and cleaner than diesel. And it’s certainly the path of least resistance through the emissions quagmire.”

Article: Harvey Gulf’s pioneering spirit

Video: “The lack of infrastructure is a concern”

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