This year’s unprecedented hurricane season has resulted in downtime for many operators in the liquid natural gas (LNG) industry due to damage from the storms. It is just one more set of risks being seen in what was already a difficult year, and is contributing to several proposed projects being delayed. These storms are a challenge for the industry to navigate as demand for LNG will rise by 0.9 percent per annum to 2035.
Extreme weather conditions can dramatically impact safe and timely shipping operations and here in the U.S. LNG ports and terminals located along the Gulf of Mexico must carefully monitor the weather to ensure that conditions do not exceed predetermined safety levels. To do so, they need access to reliable weather forecasts and guidance tailored to their precise location in order to support safety and operational decisions.
Hurricane Laura hit the Gulf coast in late August, with 150 mph winds and a storm surge that damaged onshore gas-processing and offshore pipeline operations. This storm cut off most offshore oil output in the Gulf of Mexico and nearly two-thirds of gas production. Workers from more than 280 production platforms and drilling rigs were evacuated before the storm.
For coastal terminals, the risks associated with a storm event like Laura can have a major impact on business operations, worker safety, and import/export schedules. Timing facility shutdown and shipment cancellations or deferments is always a difficult balance between safety and profitability, and the additional time necessary for COVID-19 safety protocol makes this all the more challenging. Shutdown too soon and it could result in the missed opportunity of millions in revenue. Shutdown too late, and it places unnecessary risk to personnel and assets.
The physical risks to ships are critical, from swells and high winds resulting from tropical weather systems. It’s challenging to maneuver LNG tankers in these conditions and accidents caused by adverse weather can cause injuries and damage expensive assets, like loading docks.
Terminals located in channels connected to rivers can also be affected by significant rainfall, causing water levels to rise and currents to increase for days and weeks following the storm. Again, this scenario makes maneuvering and controlling the tankers difficult.
Port and terminal operators use localized, customized weather forecasts and decision support to coordinate tanker arrivals during periods when the winds, swells, and currents are within acceptable operating criteria, resulting in safer operations and maximized financial performance. Up-to-the-minute, localized forecasts accurately predict winds, thunderstorm squalls, wave amplitude, and periods and surges that occur before and linger after the storm has passed. This allows ship crews to accelerate or delay arrivals to avoid significant weather events, and enables safe, efficient LNG loading and offloading.
While November typically marks the winding down of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic, this year continues to be active. The recent formation of tropical storm Theta is the 29th named storm this year with yet another storm possibly forming in the Caribbean, making 2020 the most active hurricane season on record in terms of named systems. The continued development of tropical storms means that LNG ports and terminals will have to remain on high alert later this year to keep vessels, operations and crew safe.