LNG Facility Brings Positive Economic Change To Former Manufacturing Center

November 2009 Vol. 236 No. 11

Michael A. Nicoloro, P.E.

Situated along the Naugatuck River in central Connecticut, the city of Waterbury gained a reputation years ago for the quality of its brass products, earning it the nickname “The Brass Capital Of The World”. However, like many other New England industrial centers, the city’s status as a manufacturing giant began to wane in the latter half of the 20th century, with the last brass mill officially closing its doors in the 1970s.

Today, Waterbury is on the rebound, with various projects throughout the city revitalizing once derelict property. One such project was completed in fall 2007 by Yankee Gas Service Company, Connecticut’s largest natural gas distribution company. Yankee Gas constructed a $107 million, 1.2-Bcf liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facility on a brownfield site that was in need of environmental remediation.

The result was a first-of-its-kind LNG facility, a positive economic development for a once struggling municipality, and a successful outcome to a potentially sensitive natural gas project.

Waterbury enjoys a solid relationship with the gas company, which has served as an employer in the area for nearly a century. The gas company also has a vested interest in the city’s ongoing economic revival since Waterbury represents the company’s largest customer base.

Yankee Gas once operated four smaller LNG facilities in the state, one of which was located in Waterbury. However, the company retired the plants in 1991.

The Eagle Street property where the new LNG facility sits is located within a valley near the Naugatuck River and abuts Railroad Hill Road. It had many gas-related uses over the years, including a former manufactured natural gas plant and a propane peak-shaving facility. Prior to its revitalization, the cigar-shaped, flat piece of land was in a state of abandonment, featured some environmentally contaminated areas and had been scheduled for a Department of Environmental Protection cleanup.

Additionally, because of the property’s restrictive zoning codes – which result from its proximity to residences – special design elements were implemented, particularly the construction of the first full-containment tank built in the United States. Full containment offers a more compact arrangement which requires less real estate for siting the tank.

The full-containment tank features an integral steel and concrete outer wall capable of containing the volume equivalent of the inner, cryogenic steel tank in the event of a leak or failure. The outer steel/concrete tank, while accomplishing its intended containment objective, also provides additional protection against accidental or intentional forces which may otherwise compromise the tank system.

The outer tank is made of carbon steel-lined concrete, and measures 150 feet high and 158 feet in diameter. The inner tank is made of 9% nickel steel, and measures 117 feet high and 146 feet in diameter. The tank holds 348,000 barrels (14.6 million gallons) of liquid, the equivalent of 1.2 Bcf of gas, which is enough to heat 85,000 homes for a month.

Because of its unique design, the Waterbury LNG facility required a rather singular approach when it came to security. With a full-containment tank design, the structural security of the facility needs to be ensured from accidental or intentional impacts. In our post-9/11 climate, there naturally is a heightened awareness to security issues. With the Waterbury LNG facility, this was even more so, particularly since no inland LNG facilities had been built in the United States since the mid ’90s and for more than 30 years in Connecticut. Because of these considerations, the facility had to meet stricter requirements and current force-protection guidelines.

One unique design element which allowed the facility to meet these guidelines was utilizing the full-containment tank’s special outer concrete wall and roof for force protection. Additionally, the project included a complex structural design, which featured U-shaped conduits for the vertical post-tensioning in the tank walls. The strength of the tank is supported through a totally separate cryogenic steel tank (which functions down to -270 degrees F) built within the concrete tank.

Working with the Waterbury community was an important and natural step. LNG facilities are often met with public resistance. The communities in which these facilities are proposed often label them as “environmental injustices,” citing potential safety hazards and damage to ecosystems, as well as other impacts that could degrade the quality of life for residents. Because of such public perceptions, Yankee Gas focused on being sensitive to the concerns of Waterbury residents and articulating what benefits the LNG facility would bring to the community.

During all facets of the project, meetings were conducted, which brought together residents of neighborhoods adjacent to the LNG facility site, as well as Yankee Gas officials and staff. At these meetings, residents were free to discuss the project and address any particular uncertainties they had. A toll-free telephone number and e-mail address were created, giving residents the ability to ask questions whenever they arose.

To the delight of both Yankee Gas and the Waterbury community, the insertion of the LNG facility into the Eagle Street site was done with almost no nuisance complaints or public opposition, which was a testament to the planning, outreach, and management efforts conducted by individuals on both sides of the project.

Peak-Shaving Facility
The Waterbury LNG facility is a full-service plant that features feed gas preparation, on-site liquefaction, LNG tank storage, vaporization, truck loading/unloading, safety, security and fire protection systems, buildings, shelters, and access drivers. As the hub of the Yankee Gas distribution system, the Eagle Street site provides access to three primary gas pipeline transmission systems for operational flexibility as well as proximity to major roads for truck delivery of LNG.

The LNG facility serves as a peak-shaving facility, providing Yankee Gas with the capacity to provide superior and sustainable gas supply to the 71 communities it serves. Natural gas is purchased when demand and costs are lower (typically in the summer), and liquefied and stored in the LNG full-containment tank. It is then distributed during the winter-heating season when demand is elevated and prices are higher. This purchasing strategy, coupled with increased storage capability, provides protection from price volatility. Also, the size of the LNG plant greatly improves the economics of the project, as there will always be an adequate volume of liquid stored in the tank to maintain its cold temperature.

The Waterbury facility can make LNG from natural gas, store the LNG, and vaporize it for later use. Depending on pricing, imported LNG can be purchased and trucked to the site. The full-containment tank’s initial fill was largely accomplished by trucking in liquid.

Serving As A Good Neighbor

Economically, the Waterbury LNG facility is a positive force. During construction, Yankee Gas was adamant about using local contractors and employees. At the same time, the facility provides employment for more than 100 area workers. And finally, the facility saved taxpayers an estimated $16 million in just its first year of operation, while earning the city $2 million in tax revenue during and following its construction.

But what has especially excited those within the LNG industry is the potential precedent this project could set. Waterbury dispelled the long-held myth that LNG facilities cannot serve as good neighbors, as the Yankee Gas facility was safely and efficiently sited near residential areas. This could lead to the development of new LNG facilities across the country.

As the demand for natural gas continues to grow, more LNG facilities will be needed nationwide, both inland storage facilities such as the one located in Waterbury and coastal import facilities. Currently, there are about 200 peak-shaving and LNG storage facilities worldwide, with many operating since the mid-1960s. In the U.S., there are 113, with a high concentration of these facilities located in the Northeast region.

The design and permitting of the Waterbury project – which was completed under budget, on schedule, and with less than 1% change orders and no major safety concerns – provides a model for how LNG facilities can serve as good neighbors – a good neighbor that generates revenue, saves customers money and brings jobs to the community.

The project is also notable for the way it promotes the use of natural gas, the most important transitional fuel needed to span the “green bridge” from environmentally harmful, non-renewable energy sources to cleaner, alternative fuels. Through increased supply reliability and price stability, Yankee Gas is encouraging customers in central Connecticut to continue to convert their heating systems to cleaner-burning natural gas.

Waterbury is earning a new name for itself. Municipalities such as Waterbury are proving that LNG facilities can be built to meet environmental, safety, and public concerns, while at the same time, allowing for flexibility in where a facility is sited. And while the social and sustainable gains were notable, this central Connecticut city particularly benefitted from the economic development opportunities. Waterbury is now earning a new name for itself: “Forerunner in the siting of new LNG facilities.”

The LNG facility was designed and built by Chicago Bridge & Iron, a firm specializing in LNG design and construction (www.cbi.com, 832-513-1000). The role of S E A Consultants Inc., a civil and environmental engineering and architecture firm based in Cambridge, MA, was to collaborate with regulators, local officials, and community (www.seacon.com,617-497-7800).

Michael A. Nicoloro, P.E., is a registered professional engineer (Massachusetts and New Hampshire) and is Director of Energy Services for S E A Consultants Inc., Cambridge, MA. His focus is on renewables and natural gas. He has 31 years of diverse experience and is the former Manager of Gas Supply and LNG/SCADA Operations for Commonwealth Gas Co. (now N-Star), and Managing Director for the City of Cambridge Water Department. Contact the author through rfoley@smith-phillips.com.