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Energy industry innovation and activity - Taranaki, March 2018

By Neil Ritchie

There are some small energy activities happening or planned for Taranaki waters and beyond.

Shell Exploration NZ is currently carrying out some routine inspection work off the coast of Motunui. The Southern Star vessel is undertaking the work near the Pohokura B unmanned platform and the pipeline between the platform and the shore. 

Meanwhile, methanol manufacturer Methanex New Zealand awaits the arrival of four new tankers from overseas that will not only carry loads of methanol to various places of  the world, primarily the expanding Asian markets, but also be powered by the “clean, green” petrochemical produced at the three Methanex NZ plants at Motunui and Waitara Valley.

The new tankers are being built partly to replace earlier models, including the Taranaki Sun, which are also methanol-powered vessels, constructed earlier this decade.

The four new vessels are being built in South Korea for the Vancouver-headquartered Methanex Corporation – to again load cargoes of the petrochemical produced by Methanex New Zealand at its three methanol plants just north of New Plymouth. 

“The ships, when they are completed, will be used to transport methanol from New Zealand to Asia, among other places. At this stage it’s too early to say where they’ll be going on their   voyages,” Methanex NZ public affairs manager Juliet Larkin told EnergyStream.

The companies investing in the ships are Methanex subsidiary Waterfront Shipping (WFS), Marinvest/Skagerack Invest, IINO Kaiun Kaisha (IINO), Mitsui & Co, and the NYK Group.

Methanol is a safe, biodegradable and clean-burning fuel for use in various industries and it is also is a promising alternative marine fuel that can meet new and existing environmental regulations from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

The IMO regulations requires vessel to decrease emissions of sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxides. And by using methanol rather than conventional marine fuel, the vessels produce significantly fewer emissions than standard vessels.

The new vessels will be built at Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, where several of the first generation of methanol-fuelled vessels were built.

WFS will charter the new vessels to support the growing global demand for methanol. Two of the vessels will be owned in a joint venture between WFS and Marinvest, one will be owned by NYK and the fourth owned in a joint venture between IINO and Mitsui.

WFS specialises in global marine transport of bulk chemicals and clean petroleum products to markets in North America, Asia Pacific, Europe and Latin America. It has the world’s largest methanol ocean-tanker fleet.

  “We have been very pleased by the performance of the vessels delivered in 2016 and excited to be investing in another two. Our overall focus in the development of the dual-fuel system concept has been safety and engine reliability. We have found the technology for handling methanol is well developed and offers a safe dual-fuel solution for low-flashpoint liquid fuels”, Marinvest chairman Patrik Mossberg has said recently.

“We are proud to be partnering with WFS to advance methanol as a sustainable marine fuel and be part of an innovative solution that meets the needs of the shipping industry and contributes to a more sustainable future”, Takeshi Setozaki, Chief Operating Officer, Mitsui, has added.

Methanex NZ Senior Vice-President (Marketing & Logistics) Vanessa James has also noted that the methanol-powered vessels utilise innovative and sustainable technology as well as providing a cost-effective alternative marine fuel.

Methanex, the world’s largest producer of the petrochemical, believes methanol used as a marine fuel has “immense potential” in helping the worldwide shipping industry meet environmental regulations, with the cleaner fuel able to significantly reduce emissions, including nitrogen oxides and sulphur.

Meanwhile, onshore in Taranaki, Todd Energy subsidiary Nova Energy continues developing the necessary road access to its proposed new  NZ$100 million 100MW gas-fired peaker plant. The road works, off State Highway 3 just south of New Plymouth’s water treatment plant, started few years ago though progress has been slow, primarily, it is believed, because Nova was unsure of gaining enough long-term gas supplies to use as a feedstock.

But Todd Energy bought out former 50 percent partner Shell NZ for an undisclosed sum last year, thus gaining access to additional supplies of gas from the Kapuni field – still one of the biggest onshore gas fields in Taranaki and with the potential for the shallower and more complex K1 and K2 sands to be developed. This is in addition to the presently producing deeper K3 sands. 

However, this latest at fast-start power is one of the several options Nova is presently considering and any final investment decision may still be months away. It is further believed Nova is still going through confidential negotiations regarding selecting a "preferred bidder" to construct the plant.

Todd Energy built a 100MW fast-start gas peaker plant alongside its McKee-Mangahewa production station inland near Tikorangi in 2012.