Lawmakers have one hot and messy item on their hands right now: the Alaska LNG project. It’s a giant pipeline the state hopes to build, along with three or four other industry partners, to bring natural gas from the North Slope to market.
Let’s look at some of the details. First off, this is a big and expensive endeavor — $45 to 65 billion bucks. For comparison, that’s roughly the GDP of Bulgaria.
And that figure accounts for three big things: A gas treatment plant, the pipeline itself, and a giant liquefaction plant in Nikiski.
The gas treatment plant on the North Slope will strip out impurities like carbon dioxide.
From there, the gas would go into an 800-mile underground pipeline built right alongside Alaska’s other trusty pipeline: TAPS. But instead of going to Valdez, this pipeline would head to Cook Inlet, where it’ll end at a brand-spanking-new liquefaction facility in Nikiski.
This is where the magic happens. Expensive magic! Roughly half the cost of the LNG project’s $45-65 billion dollar price tag is the liquefaction plant.
Liquefaction is a fancy word for “to make liquid.” And that’s exactly what happens to the gas. Long story short, when the gas is chilled and becomes liquid, it becomes 600 times smaller, which is really convenient for shipping.
But natural gas has to get really cold to liquify. Like negative-260 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s about how cold it is on Saturn.
If you pour cold LNG in a glass, it would look just like a glass of water. (But don’t spill it.)
So we have a bunch of liquid gas that has to stay really cold. It would get held in storage tanks in Nikiski until ships arrive to courier it away. Those ships are essentially floating thermoses — specially designed to transport LNG to buyers in Asia.
Once the gas arrives in Asia, it’s warmed back up and turned into regular ‘ol natural gas — like what your heater runs on.
So that’s the ‘how’ of Alaska LNG. The big question is, will it happen?
That all depends on the market. Are there enough buyers who want LNG in Asia? And will they commit to buy it from Alaska?
Right now the project is still in its early planning and design stages. If all goes according to plan the state and its partners would make the decision on whether to actually break ground in 2018, and the first Alaska gas would ship in 2024.