Nearly two years after construction began, the Neptune liquefied natural gas port is now operational 10 miles off the Gloucester shore, and owner GDF Suez expects its first fuel-laden tankers to arrive at the facility in August.
That summer delivery time would come in roughly six months behind the initial project schedule, an outcome with which Suez is happy considering the size and complexity of the $1 billion project, spokeswoman Carol Churchill said Friday.
"Whenever you are doing a project this size, there are a number of considerations and weather can set things back," said Churchill, who explained that the August delivery schedule was "based on demand."
The Neptune project has involved multiple components stretching from the North Shore to shipyards in South Korea and refineries in the Middle East. It has involved extensive federal security reviews that have evolved over the years along with shifting terrorist threats.
Neptune consists of two off-loading buoys that connect ships to the underwater pipe system and only one of them has been fully tested and could accept tankers now.
The second is still being tested and awaits the arrival of the second of two new custom-designed "shuttle regasification vessels," tankers capable of carrying the super-cooled liquid gas and re-vaporizing it on board to pump into the sub-sea pipeline.
That second tanker, the GDF Suez Cape Ann, is scheduled for sea trials this summer and will be tested along with the second buoy, Churchill said.
Neptune sits in a wedge of federal water between the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and two ocean sanctuaries in Massachusetts waters. When not receiving a tanker, only the buoys will be visible above the water.
Neptune is the second offshore LNG port to open off the north shore since 2008. Five miles to the west of Neptune is the Northeast Gateway port, owned by Texas-based Excelerate Energy.
Both ports faced local opposition when they were proposed and entered permitting, much of it because they are located on prime fishing grounds and come with large security perimeters that force boats to steer clear whenever a shipment is coming in.
Each project donated $23.5 million in mitigation to Massachusetts interest groups, including $6 million each to the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund, in an effort that helped avoid legal challenges.
One of the main reasons to build the offshore ports has been to increase the supply of natural gas to New England while avoiding new shipments to crowded land-based ports such as Boston or Fall River.
New security concerns about LNG shipments into Boston Harbor flared this winter in the wake of the failed Christmas Eve bombing attempt on a Northwest Airlines flight by a man trained in Yemen, a country of origin for some Suez gas shipments.
Suez expects to eventually bring shipments from Yemen to Neptune.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk has pointed to Gloucester's proximity to the two LNG ports as reasons she hopes the federal Department of Homeland Security will raise Gloucester's terrorism threat level.
Construction of Neptune began in July 2008 with the installation of a 13-mile underwater pipeline connecting the port to the Algonquin Hubline, a pipe looping through Massachusetts Bay from Beverly to Weymouth.
The total project, including the construction of two tankers, costs around $1 billion and, when complete, is expected to provide enough gas to heat 1.5 million homes per day.
Suez, a French multinational company, will service Neptune with the colossal tug Independence that docks at Cruiseport Gloucester, where the company has leased office space.
Suez estimated that Neptune would generate $10 million in local economic activity over 20 years.
Patrick Anderson can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org.