A liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker is approaching Dominion's new export facility on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and was expected to dock there Thursday to assist with the commissioning process, according to analysts and three websites that track the movement and position of seafaring vessels.

The Maran Gas Delphi, a Greek-flagged tanker with 159,800 cubic meters of LNG capacity, which converts to 3.3 Bcf, was steaming toward the Dominion Energy Cove Point LNG LP terminal at Lusby, MD, on Thursday, according to ship-tracking websites FleetMon, MarineTraffic and VesselFinder. FleetMon reported that the ship left port at Bonny, Nigeria, on Nov. 30, and its final destination was Cove Point.

The arrival of the Maran Gas Delphi comes as Dominion moves closer to commencing commercial operations from Cove Point. The company introduced feed gas at the facility last week.

"This vessel originated from Nigeria and is expected to arrive today," Genscape Inc. analyst Jason Lord told NGI. "This sort of shipping behavior is typical by which a 'cool down' cargo is brought in as part of commissioning process of a new facility."

Lord said the Maran Gas Delphi is a charter from Royal Dutch Shell plc, confirming Dominion's statement last week that Shell subsidiary Shell NA LNG is providing feed gas for liquefaction during the commissioning process and is off-taking the LNG that is produced. "The vessel is fully loaded and it will unload this LNG," Lord said.

It is not the first time an LNG tanker has docked at Cove Point. According to Lord, the Madrid Spirit, which also originated in Nigeria, docked at the Maryland facility last January.

"We are looking forward to Cove Point's first exported LNG cargo, whenever it occurs," said spokesperson Daphne Magnuson of the Natural Gas Supply Association and the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas. "It marks another exciting step in the growth of a thriving LNG export market for the United States."

FERC issued an authorization for Dominion to export LNG produced during commissioning activities via vessel in November [CP13-113].

Construction at Cove Point is completed. The facility has a nameplate capacity of 5.25 million metric tons/year (mmty) of LNG and would source gas from the Marcellus Shale. Dominion has said it expected to have the facility in service this month, and to achieve its first LNG production in mid-January.

Cove Point's marketed capacity is fully subscribed under 20-year service agreements. Pacific Summit Energy LLC, a U.S. affiliate of Japan's Sumitomo Corp., as well as Gail (India) affiliate Gail Global (USA) LNG LLC, have each contracted for half of the marketed capacity. Sumitomo has agreements to serve Tokyo Gas Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co. Inc.

Last August, Dominion requested permission to introduce feed gas to the facility's pre-treatment and liquefaction areas, and to proceed with setting up equipment for ship loading, including LNG loading pumps and return-gas blowers. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the request in October.