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LNG Tanker Congestion Could Pose Problem at Gulf Ports

Sponsors of multiple new LNG import terminal projects who took the line of least resistance in siting their terminals along the Gulf of Mexico Coast are facing another problem, that of tanker congestion from ships using the same access waterway or port, according to an article in Poten & Partners monthly publication, LNG in World Markets.

The article identifies three general areas along the Gulf Coast where multiple receiving terminals are active, proposed or under construction. In the Sabine Pass area Cheniere, ExxonMobil and Sempra all have projects. ExxonMobil and Cheniere also have terminals developing near Corpus Christi, as does Occidental. And along the Calcasieu River, which serves the operating Lake Charles LNG terminal, two others are proposed by Sempra and Cheniere.

If, for instance, the three terminals are completed along the Sabine Pass, that could bring in as many as 650 tankers a year or nearly two a day. That might not be a problem if LNG tankers were the only ships using the channel, but there are thousands of other vessels, large and small, to contend with.

And LNG tankers require special handling. They are the only ones that require all other ships, tugs, barges and other vessels to give them a wide berth for security and safety reasons, Poten's LNG publication advises. For LNG tankers underway the U.S. Coast Guard requires a clear field two miles in front, one mile astern and between 500 and 1,000 yards on either side of the ship. In the Sabine channel this may require clearing the area of all other vessels when LNG tankers are arriving. Also, it was noted that very large ships, such as the LNG tankers, are restricted to traveling the Sabine channel only during daylight hours.

In the Sabine channel the pilots association has a procedure for lining up a convoy at the start of each day, with the ships going the farthest upstream at the head of the convoy. Fitting the LNG tankers into the convoy could be a problem, the article noted.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard recently issued a new circular requiring project sponsors to start negotiations with port authorities early in the planning process to ensure the viability of the waterway access plan, Poten's report said. Previously sponsors could notify the Coast Guard just 60 days before starting operations.

For information on Poten's LNG in World Markets go to http://www.poten.com/s_c_lngconsultingproducts.asp

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