Kenai LNG plant eligible for historic designation

Aug 3, 2020

Credit ConocoPhillips

Drivers headed out the Kenai Spur Highway to Nikiski pass through a highly industrialized area with huge tanks, fences, and smokestacks. Those are shared among the old Nutrien fertilizer facility, the Kenai Liquefied Natural Gas terminal, and the Marathon Petroleum refinery (which most locals still call Tesoro). Most peninsula residents know what they are, but may not know that the Kenai LNG Plant actually represents a significant piece of oil and gas history.

The LNG terminal has been there since ConocoPhillips built it in the 1960s and used to export natural gas harvested in Cook Inlet. For a long time, it was the only LNG export plant of domestic production in the country. It’s been quiet for a while, and the company that’s now Marathon Petroleum bought it for a bargain $10 million back in 2018. One of the most notable things about it, though, is some of the technology that’s still there.

The Alaska State Historic Preservation Office wants to document and preserve a part of the plant called optimized cascade technology. Essentially, optimized cascade technology allowed operators to liquefy natural gas while recovering heavier hydrocarbons as a separate product and remove nitrogen.

ConocoPhillips developed the process and licenses it to other LNG facilities. With the growth of LNG worldwide, the process has helped make LNG production more efficient. The systems for it are still on-site at the Kenai LNG plant.

The State Historic Preservation Office says the technology and the plant’s importance in Alaska oil and gas history is significant enough to merit the Kenai LNG Plant a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, which includes sites like Mount Vernon in Virginia and, in Old Town Kenai, the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. But Marathon and Trans-Foreland Pipeline Company—the subsidiary that operates the plant—intends to renovate it for different uses, which could mean that the technology is removed, thus risking the plant’s eligibility for the register.

At the state’s request, the company has provided a historic preservation plan to allow the State Historic Preservation Office to document some of the site, according to a letter filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in June. The technology is also still confidential, as it’s still listed through FERC as critical energy infrastructure, so there are some tricks to preserving it. The company didn’t provide schematics or engineering drawings of the machinery due to those confidentiality rules, but will allow the state historic preservation office to photograph the machinery where possible, give some drawings, and give a history and description of it. As the company renovates the plant, it will stay in touch with the state about changes specific to the technology.

Sarah Meitl, the review and compliance coordinator with the state historic preservation office, says the National Register of Historic Places doesn’t preclude a facility from continuing to operate-- It just acknowledges the place’s significance. She says no one is currently pursuing an actual listing for the plant, but that it’s just been deemed eligible.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.