November 2, 2007 / 10:57 PM / 12 years ago

Sabine Pass LNG terminal nears test for April start

PORT ARTHUR, Texas, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Workers building the Sabine Pass liquefied natural gas import terminal prepared for leak testing of the project’s first storage tank on Friday, a step toward plant start-up in April, officials said.

Cheniere Energy Inc (LNG.A) officials said the $1.5 billion project, one of four under construction within 120 miles (195 km) along the U.S. Gulf Coast, is within budget and on schedule to receive its first LNG in February in preparation for commercial operation in April.

LNG plants are being built because the United States needs more gas than it can produce or import by pipeline. So, it is being brought in by tanker from overseas. Foreign gas is cooled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 162 degrees Centigrade) to reduce its volume, loaded onto a ship and sent overseas.

At import terminals such as Sabine Pass, it is warmed back into a gas and put in pipelines for use as fuel. Five terminals already operate on the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts. A fifth new U.S. terminal is under construction offshore of Boston and others are planned.

For Cheniere, hydrostatic testing of the first of three 150-foot (46-meter) tall, 270-foot diameter storage vessels, expected within days, is a milestone in the first phase of the project 10 miles east of Port Arthur in Cameron Parish, Louisiana.

Bechtel Corp, which is building the plant for Cheniere, gave notice that the plant is within 120 days of completion in mid-October so that plans could be made to schedule arrival of the first cargo of LNG for cooldown in February.

When cooldown testing is complete, the plant will be ready to receive its first commercial cargoes, officials said.

The plant will start commercial operation with two tanks completed and a third near completion. Two other tanks, part of the second phase of construction, are under construction just to the north of the three first-phase tanks.

The first phase of the facility will be able to receive, regasify and ship 2.6 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas. When the second phase is finished in 2009, the plant’s sendout capacity will be 4.0 billion cubic feet a day, officials said.

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