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Freeport LNG sets initial steps to resume service after hurricane struck Texas

Highlights

Timing uncertain when terminal will be producing again

TotalEnergies-chartered tanker moored at site since Sept. 13

Freeport LNG planned to take the initial steps Sept. 17 to resume service, after the export facility was knocked offline earlier in the week due to an interruption in power caused by Hurricane Nicholas' damage along the Texas Gulf Coast, according to an air emissions notice to state regulators.

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While the operator declined to say whether the local utility had been able to restore power to some equipment or when the terminal would be producing LNG again, it told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that venting to the liquefaction flare would be occurring.

Such emissions are common when an LNG facility is restarting its trains. All three trains at Freeport LNG, which has total capacity of 15 million mt/year, shut down when Nicholas came ashore early Sept. 14 as a Category 1 hurricane, bringing 75 mph winds and heavy rain.

The outage reduced the availability of US supplies of the power plant and home heating fuel to global markets at a time of strong demand, especially in Asia and Latin America. Even so, the impact was expected to be limited, with the other five US LNG export terminals operating at or near full utilization to capture bullish netbacks on deliveries from the Gulf Coast to Asia and Europe.

The tanker LNG Alliance, under long-term charter to TotalEnergies, was still moored Sept. 17 at Freeport LNG after arriving for loading Sept. 13, one day before Nicholas hit, according to Platts cFlow trade-flow analytics software TotalEnergies controls over 2.2 million mt/year of LNG from the third train at Freeport LNG. It inherited that commitment when it acquired Toshiba's US LNG business in 2019.

US LNG feedgas demand totaled 9.82 Bcf/d on Sept. 17, based on nominations for the morning cycle, Platts Analytics data showed. That was a jump from a revised 9.03 Bcf/d of flows for the day before. The increase was owed almost entirely to nominations of 756 MMcf/d of feedgas to Freeport LNG. That figure was likely to be revised downward during the evening cycle, if production had not yet resumed.

Damage to power infrastructure from the storm was especially acute in the area surrounding the small island where Freeport LNG is located, and the terminal is heavily reliant on grid power because it uses electric motors instead of natural gas turbines to drive the liquefaction compressors on its trains

"As residue gas feed is resumed to the liquefaction plant, flaring will occur due to the cooldown of the main cryogenic heat exchangers and the liquefied natural gas transfer systems as the liquefaction trains 1, 2, and 3 are re-started and brought back to operating temperatures," the TCEQ notice said.

The initial process was expected to last until the afternoon of Sept. 17, the notice said. CenterPoint's outage tracker on its website continued to show three locations at or around Freeport LNG's terminal without power Sept. 17, so the terminal's startup status was unclear, beyond the notice. A terminal spokesperson said she could not provide a further update.

Out of more than 400,000 customers across CenterPoint's service area that were without power at the height of the storm, only about 16,000 remained without electricity as of the afternoon of Sept. 17, according to the utility.