The prospective use of natural gas to fire power plants in Hawaii begs two unanswered issues: Where would large quantities of natural gas actually come from? And, are there any ships to transport it?
Natural gas is carried on highly specialized tankers known as LNG carriers, which transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) at very cold temperatures (-260º F).
Widespread use of natural gas to fire power plants in Hawaii - as posed in the article, "Natural gas in mix as isle energy option," (Star-Advertiser, April 15) - would require deep-sea LNG carriers.
There are no Jones Act LNG carriers to transport domestic natural gas to Hawaii. No LNG carrier has been built in the U.S. since the 1970s. The Jones Act requires a ship be U.S.-built, U.S.-flagged, U.S.-owned and U.S.-crewed to carry cargo between two domestic points.
In the mid-2000s, a major California-based natural gas distributor, Sempra LNG, investigated building LNG carriers in the U.S. to transport gas from Alaska to the U.S. West Coast. They concluded the major U.S. shipbuilding yards could not build LNG carriers in a timely fashion, and, if the ships were ever built in a U.S. yard, their cost would make the project unworkable.
The real source of low cost and plentiful natural gas currently emanates from the American Midwest. This gas would have to be transported from an LNG export terminal on the U.S. Gulf Coast via the Panama Canal to Hawaii. The costs of operating a Jones Act LNG carrier on such a lengthy route would preclude its consideration, as it did in the Alaska case.
The West Coast is not a potential supply point. Collectively, the U.S. West Coast is a net importer of natural gas.
Alternatively, there are extensive new natural gas fields being developed offshore in western Australia and in Indonesia. The existing international fleet of approximately 360 foreign-flag deep-sea LNG carriers would offer sufficient capacity to regularly transport this gas to Hawaii, especially as there are many new ones under construction.
However, the high demand from the nearby and rapidly developing Asian nations will place a well-head premium on this resource. That, coupled with the freight associated with a long transit to Hawaii, would make the landed cost of this gas much more expensive than indicated by current domestic U.S. pricing.
Another alternative source of natural gas for Hawaii is the Thompson Point oil and gas field on the Alaska North Slope (ANS) about 60 miles West of Prudhoe Bay. This field contains very large proven reserves of both crude oil and natural gas.
BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips have recently signed an agreement with Alaska to develop the field and build a gas pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez, where the gas would be converted to LNG and exported. This development has the potential of being a relatively low cost source of natural gas for Hawaii over many years.
Unfortunately, there is no way to ship ANS natural gas to Hawaii or the U.S. West Coast because the economics of the Jones Act make it not feasible. As a result, developers of the Point Thompson field plan to export all that gas to Asia.
The only plausible way Hawaii will get access to lower cost ANS crude oil and natural gas is with an exemption from the U.S.-build requirement of the Jones Act to allow foreign-built U.S.-flag crude and LNG carriers in to the Hawaii trade.
The Hawaii Shippers Council has proposed that such an exemption should apply to the all noncontiguous domestic jurisdictions -Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico - and only for large, self-propelled oceangoing ships.
Credit: Michael Hansen
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