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LNG Infrastructure - Connecting Ship to Shore

July 13, 2016

LNG Infrastructure: Build and Protect

It’s been an interesting time for LNG, particularly in the US where lifting the ban on exports recently enabled the first ever shipment of liquefied natural gas to depart American shores. It’s a development that has seen the US take a significant step forward in terms of the global oil and gas trade. 

But this new found status requires work, most notably in the form of infrastructure investment – there are currently four new export terminals under construction in the Gulf Coast area alone. The global picture is similar. In fact, estimates suggest that planned infrastructure development will see worldwide liquefaction capacity increase 37% by 2020. 

Given that LNG terminals have to fulfil a number of needs – receiving tankers, unloading cargoes, tanking, regasification, treatment (including odourisation) and onward distribution by road, rail, pipeline or sea – it is not surprising that they also have a complex matrix of requirements in terms of surveillance. 

In this Interview Room we talk to Darren Alder, Synectics’ Engineering Director about what those key requirements are and what terminal operators should look for when specifying surveillance solutions. 

Where can surveillance technology most help LNG terminal operators?

If you were to tick off a checklist of surveillance requirements for LNG terminals, individual elements will almost certainly fall under one of two categories – security or process. 

When you consider that the cost to develop an export LNG terminal can be upwards of $10 billion, and that the goods entering and leaving these terminals are both valuable (to domestic and international economies) and physically hazardous, the security credentials of any surveillance solution adopted have to be impeccable. An open platform command and control solution integrating surveillance cameras with dedicated perimeter and access control solutions, therefore provides a valuable and essential understanding of site activity and asset movements. 

Using a surveillance command and control solution to unify data from systems that detect fluctuations, and then pair that information with visual detail – live or recorded – from a site’s network of cameras, is hugely beneficial for identifying potential threats to operational processes and responding to incidents. 

However, the biggest benefit that an intelligently integrated surveillance solution offers is the ability to bridge the gap between process and security monitoring to achieve situational awareness that spans every aspect of the site. It’s an approach to surveillance that the industry is adopting more and more and one that will undoubtedly benefit LNG terminal operators as the sector moves forward. 

Are there any unique requirements that are different to other types of oil and gas projects?

Yes, there are. The nature of LNG terminals means that as well as sharing a common thread of requirements with oil and gas projects, they also have needs that are similar to transport hubs. 

In many cases, terminals will have a sea-to-shore (and vice versa) infrastructure incorporating rail, vehicular and marine access. Access points are increased and the logistical challenges - of moving assets through these various stages – are heightened. 

LNG terminal surveillance therefore has to be capable of detecting anomalous behaviour or metrics in an environment where a typical ‘scene’ is complex and changing with much greater frequency than you would experience with an oil facility, for example. Identifying a suspect item or individual in a largely static area is very different to doing so in a highly populated zone dedicated to logistics. 

This may call for more complex analytical tools in terms of, say, facial recognition capability, but ultimately the answer to the addressing these additional challenges remains the same. It’s about adopting an integrated approach to surveillance – one that enables operators to track assets from entry to exit point.

What about the processes carried out at LNG terminals, do they present any specific challenges in terms of surveillance?

Yes and no. While the nature of individual processes might vary, how threats to those processes are detected and dealt with will remain very similar. 

Take the issue of leak detection as an example. With an oil facility, leaks are often highly visible. At an LNG facility, leaks are more likely to be invisible to the eye. The key to leak detection in either case, however, is ensuring operators have the relevant data and guidance workflows at their fingertips. 

With the oil facility, the emphasis on visual verification will be greater - an operator will often be able to see oil or hot steam. At the LNG facility, cubic flow readings and gas sensor levels (because you can’t see gas/dry steam) will have a more significant role. The data inputs may differ but the process of mining that information to generate alerts and automated workflows that advise operators on appropriate response protocols is the same.  

Are there any emerging trends for LNG terminals in terms of the types of cameras deployed?

As you might expect, the dominant trend is the transition from analogue to IP. However, progress is relatively slow and while some new-build LNG terminals may adopt wholly IP solutions, most sites – particularly where existing infrastructure is being developed/upgraded to cope with additional capacity – utilise a hybrid surveillance solution in order to accommodate both IP and analogue cameras on a single system. We are seeing this a lot in the US. 

We are also beginning to see increased interest in camera stations that ‘do more’, such as cameras with integral IR, analytics or edge-recording capabilities that provide an additional level of protection in the event of system failure. As LNG terminals adopt IP-based solutions more widely, we are likely to see demand for this feature increase. 

Of course, with any oil and gas facility, performance certification has always been and will always be crucial. ATEX, IECEx and CSAus type certification for hazardous area/explosion-proof camera stations and guaranteed operational quality in dramatically varying light and temperature conditions is paramount. With LNG terminals, you also need to keep in mind qualities normally associated with marine applications such as vibration reduction and the ability to withstand salt corrosion due to the terminal’s location. 

How do you see LNG terminal surveillance evolving in the future?

I think one of the most exciting developments will come from improvements in ship-to-shore connectivity. At present, though LNG vessels and terminals both utilise integrated surveillance solutions they do so on a closed loop basis – integration, and therefore meaningful interaction, between the two is rare. 

In the future this will almost certainly change, enabling on-vessel and onshore teams to collaborate in terms of asset protection. For example, should a certain set of criteria be detected onshore that indicate a potential breach – perhaps anomalous access control data coinciding with an unscheduled delivery – alerts can be issued to on-site teams and to the crew of vessels in a specified radius of the terminal, potentially initiating workflows suggesting a change to docking procedure or route. Flipping that scenario, it could be that an offshore LNG carrier surveillance solution – consolidating data (visual and numerical) from multiple ship systems, including radar, cameras, ECDIS and the Automatic Identification System (AIS) – identifies a suspect vessel in the vicinity. As well as alerting the carrier’s crew to the threat, the data captured (including any visual information) could be shared with the LNG terminal’s security team and trigger ‘high alert’ protocols. 

We are also likely to see wider adoption of specific types of integration, for example enabling systems to encompass data from body-worn cameras, hand-held meters for chemical readings, and man-down solutions. 

These developments are not going to happen immediately of course, particularly given how long it takes new projects to come online. But they will happen.