On Geoje Island, off the coast of South Korea, as many as 5,000 workers have been building the largest vessel ever constructed. With a deck the size of seven football fields and containing three times as much steel as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Prelude will spend years anchored above a natural gas field off Australia, pumping fuel from under the seabed and turning it into a liquid that can be shipped to Asian customers.
Led by Royal Dutch Shell (RDS/A), the project could transform the global gas industry. Until now, liquefied natural gas projects, which chill the fuel until it turns into a liquid that can be transported on tankers, have relied on giant onshore plants. Putting an LNG facility on top of a ship will open up dozens of fields once considered too remote or too small to be viable. “It’s a very crucial technology,” says Shell Chief Executive Officer Peter Voser, who rates approving the project as the single most important decision he’s made while running the Anglo-Dutch company. “This will be a solution that works for many, many fields.”
The ship, being built by Samsung Heavy Industries (010140:KS), goes first to a field 200 kilometers off Australia. Each year it will produce 3.6 million tons of LNG, enough to supply a city the size of Hong Kong.
Now that the hull’s complete, engineers will start installing the kit that liquefies the gas, including more than 220 kilometers of pipe. The pieces that make the turret, a tower that tethers the front of the ship to the seafloor, will all have arrived by the end of March. It could be 2017 before the Prelude is finished, towed to Australia, connected to the field, and producing gas.