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Endangered species signoff puts LNG facility in Alaska closer to handling imports


Kenai was only US liquefaction plant for decades

Modifications would feed boil-off gas to refinery

  • Author
  • Harry Weber
  • Editor
  • Richard Rubin
  • Commodity
  • LNG Natural Gas
  • Topic
  • Environment and Sustainability LNG Commoditization

The oldest LNG export facility in the US, dormant since 2015, is a step closer to being brought back online to handle imports to power a nearby refinery.

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The National Marine Fisheries Service has concluded, in a Jan. 25 letter, that the proposal to modify the Kenai LNG facility in Alaska so it can receive four cargoes a year is not likely to adversely affect endangered whales.

While LNG exports have flourished since 2016 from the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, there aren't any active shipments from the US West Coast, despite the shorter shipping distance to East Asia, the world's biggest import market. For several years, uncertainty has surrounded the fate of the proposed Alaska LNG export project, which would be built along the eastern shore of Cook Inlet, because of its massive price tag and differences among state and local officials. A proposed liquefaction terminal to be built in Oregon, Pembina's Jordan Cove LNG, has been held up by state permitting and commercial challenges.

Former plant owner ConocoPhillips began shipping LNG from Kenai LNG to overseas buyers in 1969, exporting the bulk of more than 1,300 cargoes to Japanese utilities. For more than 40 years, the plant in Nikiski, Alaska, was the only LNG export terminal in the US. A year after the 1.6 million mt/year facility went idle, Cheniere Energy shipped its first cargo from its Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana, launching a wave of new supplies produced from shale gas.

The Alaska facility's current owner, Marathon Petroleum subsidiary Trans-Foreland Pipeline, wants to add equipment and perform modifications that will allow the terminal to cool down its existing LNG storage tanks by importing LNG. It would then deliver boil-off gas generated by the facility to the adjacent Kenai Refinery that is owned by an affiliate.

Trans-Foreland estimates that approximately four LNG cargoes would be imported by Kenai LNG annually. The liquefaction portion of the plant will remain idle.

In its original application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2019, the operator had hoped to have the modifications completed in time for the facility to receive a cargo of LNG in August 2020. FERC authorized the project in December 2020. The letter regarding the endangered species determination did not provide an update to timing.

Marathon came to own the facility after its $23.3 billion acquisition of refining company Andeavor that closed in October 2018.