Shell Canada plans to build a small-scale, liquefied natural gas plant (LNG) at its refinery near Sarnia. Once regulatory approvals are secured, their “Great Lakes Corridor Project” will require 50 to 100 short-term construction jobs.
But new jobs aren’t the only great story here.
The refinery is expected to be the first LNG facility in eastern Canada, producing over 1.51 million litres per day. Its strategic location on the St. Clair River, which connects the upper and lower Great Lakes and proximity to Michigan are key – allowing for supply to marine, rail and truck customers. (The area already services about 80 Canadian and 65 American ships.)
With new regulations forcing upgrades to marine emissions systems on an already beleaguered shipping industry (deeply dependent on diesel) the facility has been described as a “game-changing event.” This development will immediately lower fuel costs by roughly 30%.
Though the plant is three years off, companies are already taking notice. Montreal-based Canadian Steamship Lines is investigating conversion. Another company is already on board – the Interlake Steamship Company will be converting their existing diesel fleet to cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas.
Though the St. Lawrence Seaway’s never seen an LNG-fuelled ship, seaway management said there’s no reason it can’t happen. “LNG is certainly becoming a more important fuel source,” said spokesman Andrew Bogora, “and the economic argument for LNG is certainly one that shippers are taking note of.”
With a new facility planned for Geismar, La. (serving the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts) and the massive 12-million tonne export plant planned for Kitimat, B.C. natural gas seems to be part of a changing tide.
We’d like to hear your perspective on the economic possibilities of converting to natural gas in the comments below.
Source: Globe and Mail, 5 Mar. 2013, at
The short answer: by the time it reaches your stove, furnace or water heater, natural gas is almost pure methane. Usually, it’s a fossil fuel that comes from deep in the ground, formed by pressure, temperature and time.
The long answer is really long – millions of years long. Natural gas begins as plant life, animals and microorganisms, most commonly from dried-up, long-forgotten oceans. All of this matter would die off and eventually get buried under sediment, mud and rock (that’s why it’s called a fossil fuel) where it would sit under pressure and heat for millions of years. This would break the organic materials’ carbon bonds and transform it into something we all use today. As almost pure methane (one carbon and four hydrogen atoms) natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel.
Once mined in its raw form, natural gas can have impurities and other hydrocarbons in it like propane, butane, and hydrogen sulfide, which are removed as byproducts and used in a variety of useful ways. Although naturally colourless and odourless, gas producers add that distinctive “rotten egg” odour (called mercaptan) so leaks can be easily detected.
However, some natural gas doesn’t come from pressure, heat and time. Ontario could add to its energy mix with biogenic methane, also known as biogas. In this process, methanogens – tiny methane-producing microorganisms – break down organic matter from biodegradable waste to produce natural gas. Landfill gas is a great example, where new technologies are being utilized to harness this renewable resource. Although many jurisdictions are turning to biogas, the province isn’t moving forward on it at this time.
To learn more about how it gets to your home read our previous posting The Journey of Natural Gas. You can also let us know your thoughts below.