A storage facility designed to give local utilities more consistent access to natural gas throughout the year has been injecting gas into its storage reservoir and is expected to be available for the upcoming heating season.
Representatives from SEMCO Energy, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, Cook Inlet Region, Inc. and First Alaska Capital Partners commissioned the Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska facility Thursday near the intersection of Beaver Loop Road and Bridge Access Road in Kenai.
The gas storage facility uses a naturally occurring reservoir located close to a mile below-ground and almost directly underneath the Kenai River.
To access the reservoir, crews from Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage laid several thousand feet of underground pipe that connect to five injection and withdrawal wells sitting adjacent to one another on Bridge Access road.
"Five wells allow up to 150 million cubic feet of gas per day to be injected or withdrawn from the storage reservoir," said George Schreiber, president and CEO of Continental Energy Systems, a majority partner in the gas storage facility.
The facility began gas injection into the reservoir on April 1 and Schrieber said he fully expected it to be available for the coming heating season.
"If you think back a few years we were all very concerned about the gas supply and gas deliver-ability at times of peak demand," he said.
The storage facility is designed to allow participating utilities to store natural gas during the summer months for use during the winter which Schreiber said would ensure natural gas customers could get what they needed during peak use times.
"We've made a lot of progress but don't get me wrong, there's still a lot more that needs to be done to solve the long term gas supply and deliver-ability issues that our customers in Southcentral are facing," Schrieber said.
Ed Scarpace, senior project engineer, was tasked with running several tours for the more than 50 people who showed up to see the fledgling operation.
He said the facility would go through four modes of operation.
"We have gas injection which took place in the month of April, followed by gas compression injection; that started on May 1 and will go on until October 1," Scarpace said. "During the month of October we'll have a short shut down and then when the weather gets cold gas will start flowing out of the station and supplement the gas supply for the Anchorage area and Kenai."
He said he expected gas to be withdrawn starting in November or "when the weather turned."
Currently the facility is storing about 45 million cubic feet but Scarpace said it was permitted to store up to 11 billion cubic feet in the reservoir.
The monthly average use for a residential home is about 124 cubic feet said John Sims, director of corporate communications for CINGSA.
Rick Gentges, project manager, said it was rare for storage facilities to be located so close to residential areas but said there were several other things that drew organizers to the reservoir which was originally owned by the Marathon Oil Company.
Taking over the reservoir from another company allowed the storage facility to plug into existing infrastructure like a gas transmission line that runs directly behind the well pad where workers were busy wrapping insulation around pipes leading to the well heads.
"We had a lot of good choices that's, I guess, the good thing here. A lot of times you don't have that. If you're trying to serve a specific market you may have limited choices and that kind of constrains your design," Gentges said. "At the end of the day, this particular field kind of hit the sweet spot. It was in the right location, right level of depletion, close to existing infrastructure and it was available."
Rashah McChesney can be reached at email@example.com