By Jorge Piñón
Cuba produces today approximately 1.155 million m³ of associated natural gas per year, an increase of 55 percent from 2005 levels of .743 million m³. Cuba’s natural gas production is all associated natural gas found within the crude oil reservoirs. The island’s geology to date has not proven to be a major source of dry, non associated natural gas reservoirs.
Associated natural gas production is being used as fuel for onsite power generating plants of 400 mw total capacity owned and operated by Energas, a joint venture between Canada’s Sherritt and Cuba’s Cupet and Unión Eléctrica.
A LNG re-gasification facility to receive Venezuelan-sourced LNG is currently being planned for the southern coast port city of Cienfuegos by CuvenPetrol, a joint venture between Venezuela’s PdVSA (51%) and Cuba’s Cupet (49%). Two 1-million-ton re-gasification trains are planned for 2012 at a cost of over $400 million. The natural gas is destined as fuel for that city’s thermoelectric power plant, and as a feedstock (hydrogen) for the Cienfuegos refinery and future petrochemical/fertilizer plants.
Liquefied Natural Gas
LNG is natural gas that has been super cooled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 162 degrees Celsius). At this temperature, natural gas condenses into a liquid taking up to 600 times less space than in its gaseous state, which makes it feasible to transport over long distances.
The chilled natural gas, now LNG, is then loaded onto specially designed tankers where it will be kept chilled until it reaches its final destination. The typical LNG carrier can transport about 125,000-138,000 cubic meters of LNG.
Once the tanker arrives at the regasification terminal, the LNG is offloaded into large storage tanks, built with full-containment walls and systems to keep the LNG cold until it is turned back into a gaseous state and moved into pipelines which will deliver the natural gas to the various end-users.
It is estimated that Venezuela has 176 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven natural gas reserves the second largest in the Western hemisphere behind the United States. Venezuela’s PdVSA plans to build three liquefaction trains at the Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho natural gas complex in Guiria. The project would source gas from the Plataforma Deltana and Mariscal Sucre natural gas projects. Total investment in the three projects could approach $20 billion, with first exports by 2013.
Atlantic Basin LNG exporters such as Trinidad and Tobago (the only country in Latin America with liquefaction facilities), Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Algeria and possibly Angola could supply Cuba with LNG if Venezuela’s supplies are not available at the time of the completion of the Cienfuegos facility.
Cuba’s neighbors, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are the only other Caribbean countries with LNG regasification facilities.
Natural gas, as the cleanest of the fossil fuels, emits fewer harmful pollutants, and helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury.
Smog and poor air quality is a pressing environmental challenge in Cuba where high-sulfur (3%) crude oil and fuel oil are burned as electric power plant and industrial fuel for the cement, nickel and steel industries. In 2009, high-sulphur fuel oil accounted for 64 percent of Cuba’s petroleum consumption.
Cienfuegos is fast becoming Cuba’s oil refining and petrochemical center.
The CuvenPetrol refinery is in the process of a $3 billion expansion project which would double its processing capacity to 150,000 barrels per day as well as improving the quality of its refined products production.
The Carlos Manuel de Cespedes electric power plant in Cienfuegos is already in the middle of an upgrading and revamping project which will allow her to burn natural gas in its 158 mw generating capacity unit number 3.
Natural gas will provide fuel to the refinery as well as hydrogen for the upgrading units scheduled to be completed by 2013. Natural gas will also be used as a feedstock for a planned $1.3 billion petrochemical complex which will include ammonia and urea producing facilities which will provide Cuba with much needed fertilizers for its agricultural sector.
All seems to indicate that Cuba is moving forward toward an energy policy which embraces energy conservation, modernization of the energy infrastructure and a balance sourcing of oil and natural gas in a way that protects the island’s environment.
Jorge Piñón is a former president of Amoco Oil Latin America who now works as a consultant in Miami