Never heard of virtual pipelines, well I had better explain they are scheduled shipments of oil and gas transported by barge, ship, rail or road tanker.
For instance, the Swiss-owned chemicals company INEOS is using a fleet of eight ocean-going multi-gas tankers to each carry 27,500m3 of ethane of US shale gas. These LNG tankers are crossing the Atlantic from Marcus Hook deep-water terminal near Philadelphia to its chemical plants in Scotland and Norway.
Elsewhere, in North America, due to congestion on railways and pipelines, virtual pipelines are in operation using river barges to transport crude oil from shale oil fields to refineries along East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The barges make use of such navigable waterways as the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, Great Lakes and Intercoastal Waterway.
In the state of Florida, Florida East Coast Railroad (FECR), this freight railway aims to move ahead with plans to use trains transporting LNG in vacuum thermos containers. FECR is awaiting Federal Railroad Administration approval on this matter. FECR has already introduced LNG fuelled locomotives, which are much more environmentally friendly than traditional diesel-powered trains.
In addition, there are plans by LNG America to set up virtual gas pipelines using LNG carrying barges, to meet the needs of customers not connected to the North American pipeline network. Such customers include deliveries to offshore oil rigs, LNG power vessels and the many customers living on islands across the continent.
Developments in Europe
But, in Europe, the main hub LNG reception ports for bulk cargos serving North West Europe are Antwerp and Rotterdam. These ports are developing break-bulk distribution facilities that will enable bunker ships and smaller barge tankers to berth and load, before either being despatched to riverside marine terminals or direct to ships in need of refueling, such as Shell’s Greenstream LNG fueled barge.The Greenstream barge is the first of 15 such vessels, Shell plans to operate in Northwestern Europe’s inland waters.
However, other operators are developing LNG barge carriers, such as LNG PRIME owned by the VEKA Group and Deen Shipping. The LNG PRIME is 90 meters long and has a loading capacity of 1.000 ton of LNG. It is designed to distribute LNG to the growing LNG bunker market in the Amsterdam-Rotterdam and Antwerp region including Vlissingen and Ghent.
However, in Scandinavia, a small gas consumer with a long coastline and many islands, has with the help of small ships and road tankers been delivering LNG to consumers for many years.
In May 2016, the German Federal Railway Authority has approved the first approved design of LNG tank car for use on European railways. This enabled Skangass Ltd to sign a deal to lease 20 LNG freight cars from German logistics operator VTG Aktiengesellschaft, which will be able to transport about 1,500 cubic meters of LNG, equal to 30 highway trucks.
In Southeast Asia, the archipelagos that make up Indonesia and the Philippines prove a challenge for traditional LNG gas to power projects. One company, Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Co. (AG&P) has announced that it will introduce a virtual LNG pipeline in order to help bridge the capacity demands for power in island communities of the region too small for traditional scale LNG gas to power solutions.
This is seen as an ideal solution, where traditional power delivery models are often too bulky to be practical to meet relatively smaller scale energy requirements. The arrival of virtual pipelines is seen as an ideal solution for supplying small-scale LNG solutions; including floating storage, re-gasification and power plants in archipelagos and other remote areas.
In future, perhaps we might see such a solution used to meet countries with extensive coastlines and or river networks, like South Africa and Bangladesh that now lack nationwide pipeline networks.
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