Fairbanks Daily News Miner

Written by: Matt Buxton

Sept 29, 2016

FAIRBANKS — Frost vapor filled the air and ice crusted the hoses at Fairbanks Natural Gas’ storage facility in south Fairbanks as history was made Wednesday.

The unloading of a pair of 40-foot cryogenic tankers marked the successful completion of the country’s first delivery of liquefied natural gas by rail, just as a flurry of snowflakes began to fall from the sky.

Crews kept careful watch  on the joints, making sure a good seal was made between the container and the storage system, as LNG chilled to minus 260 degrees F flowed from the tanker into storage. All said and done, though, the event was not much different than an average day at the terminal.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” said Bryan Watson, FNG’s operations supervisor. “It’s very similar to what we’ve done before.”

Watson said the containers used in Wednesday’s delivery are similar to ones that make the entire journey from the Port MacKenzie plant to Fairbanks by truck. The tankers used in Wednesday’s delivery traveled some 350 miles by rail, though trucks still were used to get the tanks to the railyards.

The pair of tankers built by Vancouver-based Hitachi High-Tech are on loan to the Alaska Railroad for a demonstration project proving that LNG can safely and efficiently be transported by rail. The tankers are intermodal, meaning they can be loaded onto trucks, trains or barges.

The Federal Railroad Administration granted approval earlier this year to the Alaska Railroad to begin transporting LNG. Last week, federal regulators were in Fairbanks to monitor a dry run of the tanker.

Hitachi High-Tech President Marc Bolduc was at the terminal on Wednesday and explained the containers in the project are the same kind widely used to supply gas to communities in Japan, making them a good fit for Alaska.

“Japan is the number one importer of natural gas. They distribute a lot of natural gas by pipeline, but for them the reason they transport LNG by these kind of containers are for communities that are off the pipeline grid,” he said. “Some areas are not dense enough and others are remote mountainous areas where it’s too cost-prohibitive to build a pipeline.”

Last week Alaska Railroad spokesman Tim Sullivan said an optimistic, long-term goal for the project would be to use the tankers to supply rural Alaska.

Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority board member Gary Wilken, a former state senator representing Fairbanks, said the successful delivery is good news for the Interior Energy Project, a state-backed effort to get cheaper energy to Fairbanks.

“It’s a great day for the project and pretty exciting actually,” he said. “If, a couple years ago, you would have said we’d have two tanks delivering natural gas, you would have rolled your eyes.”

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or mbuxton@newsminer.com