On 13 May, I participated in a technical visit to the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminal on the island of Krk, in Croatia, my first-ever visit to an LNG terminal. I spent the last two years writing about this specific terminal, from the booking of the whole capacity in July 2020 to the excitement of the first carrier being moored at the Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) on 1 January 2021.
And after all this writing about it, it was really exciting to be there in person, looking with my own eyes at the huge white and blue FSRU vessel; hearing with my own ears the noise made by the gas running through the pipelines; shaking hands with the people that watch over the terminal 24/7, to avoid any disruptions.
The huge, almost 300-metres long vessel was originally built in 2005 as a carrier and it now consists of LNG storage tanks, equipment for LNG loading and unloading and LNG regasification equipment. The maximum regasification rate is over 450,000 cubic metres per hour, which was exactly what was going on while I was walking on the terminal, something I could clearly hear, like a huge vacuum cleaner that somebody forgot to switch off. This gas in particular belonged to the LNG carrier BW Pavilion Leeara which arrived at the terminal on 1 May. Carriers, even big ones like the Q-Max and Q-Flex, arrive at the terminal every two weeks, meaning that a ship is about to approach the FSRU vessel any time now.
Out of everything that was explained by our professional guide, Andreja Ana Lopac, LNG Port and Terminal HSE and Security Manager, safety is surely one of the keywords. Although nothing serious ever really happened, the people working at the terminal are ready to deal with anything. The vessels and the pipes are watched 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For 28 days, around 30 people call the FSRU their home, before leaving it to their colleagues for the next 28 days. Like a lunar cycle, the vessel is never left unattended. This means that in case of malfunction, the whole automated system shuts down, valves close immediately and if needed the carrier can be un-moored from the FSRU. This way, they reassured me that no leaks are occurring. After all, the surrounding scenery is simply astonishing. Turquoise and emerald sea, fine white beaches and a beautiful seabed populated by different species of fish and plants.
The terminal is also unique in the world of the LNG industry because of two unprecedented operations carried out by its operator. Starting with the first small scale LNG reloading operation performed in the Mediterranean Sea in May 2021, which made Croatia a leader in the market for the provision of that service. And, more recently, on 11 April, the terminal was the first to perform a complex LNG reloading operation directly from the FSRU vessel to trucks. Trucks that arrive mainly from Italy, get linked directly to the vessel and leave the country with precious cargo.
Overall, the technical capacity of the terminal is 2.9 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year, a capacity that can be increased up to 3.5 bcm as soon as Croatia’s gas network will be ready to accommodate such an amount.
Indeed, under unprecedented circumstances like the current ones, countries from Central and Eastern Europe need all the receiving capacities they can get. By constructing the Zlobin–Omišalj and the Rogatec–Zabok gas pipelines, Croatia’s gas Transmission System Operator (TSO) Plinacro has enabled bi-directional gas flows with Hungary and Slovenia creating all the conditions for the transmission of gas from the LNG terminal towards the countries of CEE.
With the risk of Russia cutting gas supplies to the European Union as a whole and following the EU’s plan to diversify its sources of supplies, signing deals with LNG exporting countries (like the US, Qatar, Algeria and so on) matters up to a certain point if the receiving capacity is not matching the offer. Something that I went home with, after the technical visit at Krk, is the importance of the infrastructure. Yes, the regulatory framework is important, the financial aspect as well, but with inadequate gas infrastructure, all the LNG in the world won’t help us diversify our energy supplies.