Even though “First Drop” had occurred on July 31, 2009, the official inauguration of the RasGas LNG and ExxonMobil Train 6 in Qatar was not held until Oct. 27 to coincide with RasGas LNG’s Tenth Anniversary in the LNG industry.
The event was held in the presence of the Emir of the State of Qatar as well as leading government dignitaries and representatives from the world’s top oil and gas companies. With a program of short films, speeches and dances representing the culture of each nation to which RasGas exports, the event paid homage to Qatar’s past and future in the LNG market.
Over a decade ago, Qatar was faced with a national debt of 80-90 percent of GDP. In 1999 the nation’s per capita income was US$21,389. Despite doubters who believed Qatar was too poor to fully invest and too far away from any viable markets, Qatar invested in LNG. Over the decade, this investment has proven sound. In 2007 the per capita income was US$67,000 (fifth-highest in the world) and in 2009 is estimated to be US$81,860. Economists estimate Qatar’s 2009 GDP growth to be at 8.5% and they further estimate a growth of 9.5 percent in 2010. Indeed, LNG has proven so lucrative that Qatar barely felt the global economic crisis and has remained one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
While oil also adds to Qatar’s GDP (the entire oil and gas sector contribute 60 percent), gas replaced oil in 2008 as the primary contributor. The source of Qatar’s newfound wealth is the North Field. With an estimated 900 Tcf of natural gas, the North Field is the largest non-associated gas reserve in the world.
With the addition of Train 6, RasGas’s production is now at 28.5 mta. This “mega train” alone has a capacity of 7.8 mta. Gas supplied to Train 6 will come from two new wellheads, Wellhead 6 and 8, yielding a combined total of 14 wells. These platforms are the first stationed in Block C of the North Field, making Train 6 and RasGas the first to export gas from the region. Additional offshore technologies include the “wet” pipeline model implemented to lower capital and operating costs.
Minimizing costs and maximizing efficiency are the keys to the success of Train 6, considering its production potential and the distance to its destined market, the U.S. To realize the full potential of Train 6, Qatar developed two LNG vessels, each of an unprecedented size. The first to be designed, and the largest, is Q-Max with a capacity of 265,000 cubic meters. It was developed to meet the berth dimensions at Ras Laffan, home to RasGas, as well as to accommodate the 1.5 Bcf/d production of Train 6.
While berths at Ras Laffan can accommodate such a vessel, many of the world’s receiving ports cannot. To efficiently serve these ports, Q-Flex was developed. Q-Flex is 50 percent larger than conventional LNG vessels and has a carrying capacity of 217,000 cubic meters.
Fueling and driving these vessels did pose a challenge at the design table. Steam engines were unable to effectively power either vessel. The final outcome was the coupling of twin diesel engines fueled by re-liquefaction. Through this process, the boil-off gas passes through a heat exchanger, is then re-liquefied and returned as cargo to the storage tanks. Not only does this approach fuel both vessels, but it also virtually eliminates cargo loss. The size and scope of the Q-Max and Q-Flex vessels have increased Qatar’s ability to compete in the LNG market by reducing transport costs 30-35 percent.
Qatar, through Train 6, is also the first to implement Frame 9 technology for mechanical drive. All of these advancements are part and parcel of Qatar’s national economic strategy. Qatar’s leadership is looking ahead to the time when the North Field is no longer lucrative. They recognize the changing climate of overall energy demand meeting energy fuel supplies and thus are striving to diversify their economy. Diversification is but one pillar of Qatar’s National Vision 2030, the end result of which is Qatar’s complete transformation into an advanced society, “capable of sustaining its development and providing a high standard of living for all its people.” (1)
ExxonMobil, the joint partner of RasGas Train 6, fully embraces the National Vision 2030 not only through provisions of technology and best practices, but additionally through its support of Qatarization.
Qatarization is the government initiative aimed at increasing the number of Qatar nationals in the workforce. With regard to ExxonMobil, steps taken to achieve target figures include recruiting Qatari graduates from local and international colleges and universities. As Qatar accounts for 20-25 percent of ExxonMobil’s production portfolio, supporting such initiatives is a key figure in maintaining the relationship, which ExxonMobil says it hopes to continue. “We would be delighted to participate in additional opportunities beyond those that we already have outlined but ultimately the decision to go beyond 77 mta will rest with the decision of the state of Qatar.”(2)
The 77 mta target is set for 2010. With this production figure, Qatar will be producing an estimated one-third of the world’s LNG supply. To meet this production goal, Qatar has strategically invested in numerous ventures including a second “mega train,” Train 7, that is scheduled to come online in early 2010.
Other investments over the past decade include OG Opco, a joint venture (JV) with ExxonMobil and Qatargas formed in 2004. ExxonMobil’s JVs with RasGas include: RL I, RL II, RL 3, and RG Opco. Outside of LNG, ExxonMobil and Qatar are exploring new uses for gas including a condensate refinery, helium purification and liquefaction plant, and a petrochemical project set to utilize ethane and propane feedstocks.
Aside from these projects, Qatar is not publicly pursuing further exploits of LNG. Instead, the government is assessing the effects of their rapid development as well as the status and sustainability of the North Field. Speaking to media after the Train 6 Inauguration, His Excellency Abdullah Bin Hamad Al Attiyah, said there were no secrets surrounding Qatar’s current or future operations and assured that the public would be kept informed of any decisions made. Regardless of what these decisions may be, the long-term agreement between ExxonMobil and Qatar alone ensures that Qatar and LNG will remain synonymous for decades to come.
Facts About RasGas Train 6
Construction of Train 6 included:
- 2 new wellhead platforms.
- 2 new 38-inch pipelines.
- 100,000 meters of concrete.
- 30,000 tonnes of structural steel.
- .8 million meters of cable and wire.
- 19,000 workers at peak construction.
-Construction was completed in 45 months.
1. General Secretariat for Development Planning, Qatar National Vision 2030, http://www.gsdp.gov.qa/portal/page/portal/GSDP_Vision_Root/GSDP_EN/WhatWeDo/QNV_2030.
2. Albers, Mark “RasGas Train 6 Inauguration Press Conference” Ras Laffan, Doha, Qatar, Oct 27, 2009.