Captain Jeff Pierce, President of Safeguard Marine, LLC released a study at the Alaska LNG Summit held earlier this month which concluded that Prince William Sound (Port Valdez) is far safer than Cook Inlet for transporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) on Large LNG (LLNG) vessels to market. Captain Pierce has been a state licensed ship pilot with Southwest Alaska Pilots Association (SWAPA) for 27 years and has performed over 5,000 ship movements. SWAPA provides pilotage services for South Central Alaska which is a large area encompassing PWS, Cook Inlet, Kodiak Island, and Seward.
Pierce’s conclusions were based on interviews conducted with nineteen other marine pilots with a combined 442 years of experience in maritime navigation in both Prince William Sound as well as Cook Inlet. The findings concluded that Cook Inlet poses a greater shipping risk due to the presence of significant ice during the winter. Although Captain Pierce noted that LNG tankers have called on Cook Inlet for 40 years, the ships used there were specifically designed for that port and carry much smaller volumes of LNG. Large LNG ships are three times the size of old LNG ships that have been calling at Cook Inlet/Nikiski. “Shipping large volumes requires large ships for scale of economics,” stated Pierce.
When the pilots interviewed were asked about various locations for a large LNG terminal, more than 80% stated that a large LNG terminal out of Cook Inlet would pose a risk, whereas only 10% believed that a Prince William Sound /(Port Valdez) would pose any risk. One hundred per cent of the pilots interviewed agreed that ice conditions in Cook Inlet can prevent tug assist when needed whereas 100% of the pilots stated that the existing Ship Escort Response Vessels System (SERVS) and the Coast Guard provide adequate risk mitigation in Port Valdez. Coast Guard operations in the Port of Valdez have been uniquely designed and equipped and the personnel trained to ensure the safe navigation of large oil tankers through its waters. Similarly sized vessels would be required for the export of natural gas to the Asian Pacific Rim.
The pilots interviewed noted that Valdez: is an “excellent location, deep water, ice free;” “is where it belongs, only sensible location,” and that “only Valdez is an option for ships this size.” As for Northern Cook Inlet and Nikiski, the pilots noted that the risks posed by these locations are “absolutely not acceptable” and “can’t be mitigated with money.”
In summary, the study concluded that Port Valdez is better suited for large LNG tankers due to these key factors: (1) Valdez is a deep water ice free port, thus no dredging is required as opposed to Cook Inlet where dredging is often necessary to maintain the required 10 feet under the ship’s keel clearance; (2) tides, ice and currents in Cook Inlet pose a greater risk for the large LNG ships than Port Valdez; and (3) significant industry and Coast Guard infrastructure are already in place in Port Valdez for the very large crude carriers that call on the Alyeska Marine terminal at Valdez.
“We are pleased this question has been so clearly answered by those with over 400 combined years of experience driving ships into both Cook Inlet as well as Prince William Sound (Valdez),” noted Alaska Gasline Port Authority Chairman Jim Whitaker.
The Safeguard Marine, LLC presentation may be viewed on the Slides and Documents Page.