Energy company Royal Dutch Shell has made a final decision to construct what it claims will be the world's largest floating manmade object: a massive natural gas plant off the Australian coast.
Shell said the facility, to be built in a South Korean shipyard, will be longer than six football fields and made of 260,000 tons of steel — five times more than Sydney's famed harbor bridge or about six times as much as the largest aircraft carrier.
The company claimed Friday that the "Prelude" liquefied natural gas plant will operate for 25 years, and can withstand the worst hurricanes.
Shell did not say how much it will cost to build. It expects the structure to come online around 2017.
The facility is designed to take in the equivalent of 110,000 barrels per day in gas from undersea fields 125 miles off the coast and cool it into liquefied natural gas, known as LNG.
'Seal of confidence'
"This is going to be a seal of confidence in the idea of floating LNG," said Tony Regan, analyst at Tri-Zen Capital in Singapore.
Up until now, the liquefaction of offshore gas has involved piping the gas to a land-based plant.
With the approval of Prelude, Shell joins a raft of other LNG project developers scrambling to meet rapidly growing Asian demand, particularly from China and India.
There is also increased LNG demand from Japan after the devastating March tsunami there took several nuclear reactors offline and most recently prompted Japan's Chubu Electric Power Co to shut its two operating nuclear reactors at the Hamaoka plant.
Japan has increased its LNG imports after shutting down nuclear capacity in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami this year.
China imported just over 9 million tonnes of LNG in 2010, but its consumption is expected to rocket five-fold to 46 million tonnes by 2020.
Australia currently has around A$200 billion ($213 billion) worth of LNG projects on the drawing board. The industry aims to triple current production to 60 million tons a year by 2020.