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Natural Gas – New England: LNG-by-rail to the rescue?

March 17, 2018

By Paul Homewood


Ironic news from New England, as the global oil and gas consultancy GCA reports:



Natural Gas – New England: LNG-by-rail to the rescue?

The Massachusetts legislature has adopted a very green agenda in recent months, which has resulted in a stance against fossil fuels that some critics are pointing to as counterproductive, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.  The State has opposed gas pipeline expansion in the region, one of the most energy dependent parts of the US for winter supplies of gas and LNG for both heating and electricity generation.

Some have pointed at the recent import of gas originating from the new Yamal LNG export facility in Russia (of which the second arrived just this week) as a negative and unwanted consequence of the lack of pipeline capacity.  Electric generators in New England are also having to consider oil-fired peaking generators as a result of potential gas shortages, with double the carbon of the equivalent gas-fired plant.

Another possible consequence of the “anti-gas pipeline” stance being taken is that novel technologies are being looked at to move gas around, some of which GCA has been following in less developed jurisdictions.  For example, LNG-by-rail, which has only been permitted so far for the Alaska Railroad Company (since 2015) appears to be emerging as one way to alleviate the winter gas shortages in New England.  Based on ISO containers placed on flatbed trucks, the technology represents a potentially viable and cost-effective way of shipping LNG over land.  At sufficient scale, LNG-by-rail has a number of advantages over trucking by road, where GCA estimates the cost penalty is of the order of US$1/MMBtu for every one hundred miles, an order of magnitude costlier than a high-pressure transmission line.

The technology has sufficient backers that a number of regulatory moves are being made to try to have LNG reclassified under current regulations that apply to cryogenic substances, and various safety case initiatives are underway.  Coupled with interest in the use of LNG as a fuel for locomotives, such as the “NextFuel”TM – a locomotive concept being developed by GE, the rail industry may soon start to mirror the marine sector, being both a means to transport large quantities of gas, and also a user itself, as a low cost, efficient and environmentally friendly fuel.


Green opponents of gas pipelines may end up with a much more energy intensive alternative. Not to mention one that sounds like an accident waiting to happen.


Currently, natural gas is supplying 37% of New England’s power, that is 3752 MW, according to ISO New England, the official grid operator:




During the day it has run between 3000 MW and 4000 MW for most of the time, but peaking at 4852 MW:




Significantly, according to ISO, natural gas generators are at risk of not being able to get fuel when pipelines are constrained if output is above 4000 MW. Presumably this refers to average output, rather than peak.

Given that power demand can peak at over 22000 MW, it is hardly surprising that New England’s grid relied heavily on oil and coal during January.



Short sighted is not the word!

  1. Neil M. Dunn permalink
    March 17, 2018 7:25 pm

    And how big will be the explosion be that, of course, can never occur.

  2. Sean permalink
    March 17, 2018 7:45 pm

    If England can use butane lighter fuel as a refrigerant and place those cooling devices in high rise buildings with flammable insulation, surely in New England it must be OK to take train cars with potential to have massive fuel air explosions through cities and towns to keep people warm?

  3. March 17, 2018 7:47 pm

    The green brigade is very adept at correlating premature deaths with trace gases. How about correlating premature deaths with increase in energy costs?

  4. spetzer86 permalink
    March 17, 2018 8:26 pm

    Has anyone done a calculation about how big a hole a LNG railcar could make? At a guess, one of those randomly rolling through a neighborhood is going to lead to a bad day for someone.

    • Ian permalink
      March 18, 2018 9:24 am

      Something like this?

    • Sean permalink
      March 18, 2018 10:35 am

      Fuel air explosions don’t direct their energy to the ground, it all happens in the air above the ground where it can do the most damage.. The worst case is a situation where the liquefied fuel spreads over the ground without ignition, mixing with air as it boils off, then it all goes at once when a spark sets it off.

  5. March 17, 2018 10:02 pm

    Governor Cuomo in New York has also been blocking natural gas pipeline infrastructure. He will be apoplectic if they start shipping LNG though the state. I love it.

  6. March 18, 2018 11:27 am

    As one looking from the outside in a state not too far away which is awash in natural gas and coal……. As I have stated previously, we are now building 2 pipelines which will go east and south, but connect with other pipelines.

    The obvious long-term solution is for the peoples of the New England states to rid themselves of these politicians.

    • Colin Brooks permalink
      March 18, 2018 12:20 pm

      If they want to get rid of the politicians without leaving clues as to the identity of the assassins the Russians apparently have a really good line in nerve agents 🙂

      • John Palmer permalink
        March 18, 2018 1:25 pm

        Colin… shouldn’t that read “it is claimed that the Russians….”

        They might know where you live!

  7. Bloke down the pub permalink
    March 18, 2018 1:28 pm

    Being of a cynical disposition, I might think that the greens are looking forward to a gas explosion in a built-up area, as it would suit their long term plans.

  8. March 18, 2018 3:56 pm

    This New England power situation has many years of drama still ahead.

    Pilgrim Nuclear, which just had additional problems a few days ago, will permanently shut down after next winter, taking almost 700 Mw capacity permanently offline.

    The shunning of Northern Pass will – at a minimum – delay by years any of the desperately needed 1,000 Mw from Canadian hydro.

    The new gas fired plants still coming online (yes, several are planned, like Salem Harbor), have no chance at all to be fueled on cold days as there is already scarcity.

    To be clear, when temperatures are moderate, wholesale electric prices in NE are low ($11/$16 Mwh a few weeks ago).

    During bitter cold spells, prices will continue to skyrocket ($500/Mwh).
    Gonna be that way for years to come.

  9. jim permalink
    March 19, 2018 2:19 am

    Isn’t it good to know that that nice Mr Putin wants to keep the MA lights on!

  10. Vernon E permalink
    March 19, 2018 4:04 pm

    I have no idea whether the trains would go through towns etc but regardless an incident would undoubtedly be catastrophic (i.e. an impact) and would involve some leakage and some sparking – BOOM.

  11. March 24, 2018 3:56 pm

    Reblogged this on HiFast News Feed.

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