Are Floating Facilities a Reasonable Future for Natural Gas?

In the middle of October, Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDSA)(NYSE:RDSBannounced the beginning of construction on Prelude, “the largest object man has ever built that floats,” according to Shell’s upstream director Andrew Brown.

The vessel will be nearly as long as the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, in Chicago, the tallest building in the United States. By itself, the facility could supply 117 percent of the annual natural gas demand of Hong Kong. The project is expected to cost $10 billion and, according to Shell, represents the first step in a new direction for LNG.

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Is Royal Dutch Shell Crazy, or…?

The Royal Dutch Shell Prelude project is massive in scope and as a result has received a lot of media attention, but it’s not the only FLNG project that’s been tossed around. Japan’s top oil and gas developer, Inpex Corphas plans for a FLNG project in Indonesia with a capacity of 2.5 million tons per year.

Brazilian integrated oil and gas giant Petrobras (NYSE:PBR) is developing FLNG projects that began in earnest when partners were selected in December of 2011. The company and its partners aim to build a series of vessels by 2016 that would each have the capacity for 12 million cubic meters of natural gas per day.

Chevron (NYSE:CVX) was reportedly also considering a FLNG project in Australia to compliment its massive investments in the Gorgon and Wheatstone projects. For its part, Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) has said that it’s been “in and out of research and development of floating LNG” for a number of years…

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