A FLiNG Ain't What It Used To Be

There was a time when flings (insert personal contextual experience) used to be simple, impromptu, largely trivial things seeking instant gratification. That was until Shell's Floating Liquid Natural Gas facility, or FLiNG, came along: currently being built in the South Korean shipyards (largely unoccupied in the past several years after a surge in dry bulk container ship construction left the industry with a massive inventory glut and little demand for its precision engineering), this behemoth of a ship, measuring nearly half a kilometer in length, and displacing 600,000 tonnes of water, will be the world's largest offshore floating facility when deployed 200 km off the north-west coast of Australia in 2017 to process the recently discovered Prelude and Concerto gas fields. It will also likely revolutionize the field of Liquified Natural Gas extraction.

Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels, in relative abundance, extremely versatile and energy rich, and in a world in which reliance on foreign crude, much of in inhospitable hands, will likely play an ever greater role in energy production. It is also very "green", as it consumes less fresh water and takes up less land per unit of energy delivered. Yet one of the historical drawbacks is that traditional transportation options are limited, and extraction facilities are very bulky and complex, highly engineered and not geared toward deep sea exploration where environmental and extraction costs are prohibitive, requiring subsea pipelines traveling hundreds of kilometers to a mainland LNG facility, thus curbing one of the largest potential sources of natural gas in the world: those located underwater. All this may change with the arrival of Floating Liquid Natural Gas facilities, such as Shell's 488 meter FLNG.

The FLiNG in context:

Developed after 10 years of research, using 600 engineers, and 1.6 million man-hours (182.5 years equivalent), Shell has manged to compact the size of a traditional LNG plant to a quarter of its land size. As Wired explains: "by stacking components vertically and using deep-sea water to cool the gas to its liquid state, the FLNG saves dramatically on deck space and enables the whole facility to occupy an area of roughly 4 football pitches: 28,500 square meters. One of its most innovative features involves the the plant's unique location: an assembly of eight one-meter diameter pipes will extend 150m below the ocean's surface, delivering around 50 million liters of cold seawater an hour, used to cool the gas."

Another cool feature: the "anchoring" mechanism. "The FLNG is set to remain on location for 25 years before returning to dock, in which time it can expect to meet its fair share of stormy weather. Although its sheer size will help in coping with the high winds and giant waves, one of the largest mooring systems in the world has been designed to help guarantee safety. A 105-meter turret will run through the facility and secure it to the seabed using mooring chains, while three 6,700 horsepower engines will turn it according to wind conditions."

Good: because if the tiny by comparison BP Deepwater Horizon rig caused such catastrophic environmental havoc after one mishap, the last thing nature will need is half kilometer large flaming barges, floating out of control in the deep seas.

The bottom line: one FLiNG can produce 5.3 million tonnes of LNG, Liquified Petroleum Gas and condensate per year. Once operational, it, and its peers, will have a decided impact on the logistics, infrastructure and geopolitical balance of power in a world in which energy (and food) will continue to play the most dominant marginal role.