The managers of the Alaska LNG Project are moving forward on field work planned for this summer, including water tests, offshore work and borehole drilling onshore in Nikiski.
With only one season left before the project will go to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval, the summer field work will be more limited in scale — about a third the scale of what it was in the summer of 2015, said Jeff Raun, project advisor for the Alaska LNG Project, during a community meeting on Thursday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.
Field work will begin both onshore and in Cook Inlet beginning in April, with the offshore work ending in June or July “to get out of the way of the fishermen,” Raun said. An offshore vessel will do more follow up bathymetry work on smaller scale than the work done in 2015, filling in patches that need more information on the surface geology on the bottom of Cook Inlet, he said. Onshore, the workers will drill approximately 50 more boreholes about 150 deep, part of a requirement for any project that deals in hydrocarbons, Raun said.
“The purpose of this year’s program is really to hone in on the equipment locations,” he said. “We’re getting those site-specific geotechnical data and information by drilling more holes in the proposed locations of the major equipment for the facility, and we’ll be providing that information to FERC so they can review it and say, ‘Yep, looks good.’”
The one new component will be water tests. Residents have raised concerns about the proposed plant’s water use, worrying that such a large plant will reduce the amount of water available for locals. Geotechnical information has shown three aquifers beneath Nikiski, two shallower and unconfined, the third deeper and confined, Raun said.
Two pump test wells will be drilled into the second aquifer and 350 gallons of water per minute will be pumped out of it for 10 days as a test, mirroring the maximum amount required during construction, Raun said. One of the wells will be converted to go deeper into the lowest aquifer and 1,000 gallons per minute will be pumped from it for 8 hours, a test for resupplying tanks during firefighting, he said.
“We want to know, although we don’t believe there will be impact on the existing aquifers from this operation, but we need to test that,” Raun said. “We understand that 1,000 gallons per minute, that’s quite a draw. We want to ensure that if we ever need to draw at that rate, we’re able to do so without impacting other water users in the area.”
Tweaks to the plans
The proposed megaproject, consisting of an 800-mile pipeline bringing natural gas from Prudhoe Bay and Point Thompson on the North Slope to a plant in Nikiski where it will be cooled and condensed into liquefied natural gas, is now in its third year of field work but is still in the pre-FEED phase — the preliminary front-end engineering and design work. The design work proper has not even begun yet, a process estimated to take two to three years.
The plans for the plant are still being tweaked, said Mike Britton, the Alaska LNG Project manager. The latest edition downsized some of the footprint for the plant, changing the number of tanks from three smaller tanks to two larger tanks and condensing the administration building, he said.
With the new plans, the plant itself will take up a little more than a third of the total 900 acres of land that the project managers intend to acquire, he said.
Many of the space requirements are ruled by required buffers, such as the buffer required around the LNG tanks for pools and another for potential spill hazards, and play roles in how they design the plant, he said.
“Every change we make is on a cost-benefit basis,” Britton said. “If you can have A with B and using C is a little cheaper, but you can’t have C with A, then you’re restricted there.”
The proposed dock will be a little different as well — it has been raised off the beach to allow access to the beach beneath it and is about 3,600 feet out into the water.
Additionally, the designers are proposing to use a type of equipment for the pipeline called pipe-in-pipe, which is safer in case of leaks and allows the pipe to go straight out from the bluff to the tanker docking location, Britton said.
One thing that may not change, however, is the size of the pipe. At the request of Gov. Bill Walker, the project managers spent five months investigating the option of using a 48-inch pipe rather than the originally planned 42-inch pipe. Raun said the project team officially recommended staying with the 42-inch pipe.
“A lot went into that decision,” Raun said. “Our recommendation as a project team is to stay with a 42-inch pipeline.
Despite months of meetings, the dozens of Nikiski residents and other locals who turned out for the meeting still grilled the project managers with questions right up until the end of the allotted 90 minutes.
Most of the concerns centered around additional land acquisition and the proposed water testing.
“How deep is that (third aquifer)?” a woman in the audience asked, jotting notes throughout the presentation. “I’m at 170 (feet). What’s that going to do to me?”
Raun said the third aquifer is at 250 feet and said the engineers do not expect there to be an impact, but they will be measuring the effects in the area when they do the pump test. In addition, the water will be discharged into a gravel pit on Robert Walker Avenue, a move the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation will have to review and approve.
“I think in all of the conversations that the team has had with the community, water has been a very serious topic of discussion, and rightly so,” Raun said. “We’ve said that we are going to start a program to better understand what’s going on with groundwater in our area of interest.”
Mike Peek is concerned about crime from the leftover, empty homes that the project has bought but not demolished yet.
From his home across the street from the LNG-purchased property, he said he has seen crime pick up in that area, and with no Alaska State Troopers station and no local police in Nikiski, it is a concern, he said.
He urged the project managers to carefully consider the consequences of their property purchases if they do not tear down the houses and secure the property.
“Just so you know, the ones right outside that boundary (of the property you intend to buy) are the ones most impacted,” Peek said at the meeting. “We’re the ones dealing with the aftermath.”