GE invests $65m in gas storage

GE Energy Financial Services is making its first investment in natural gas storage, acquiring a preferred equity interest in an underground salt dome storage project in Louisiana for $65m.

GE Energy Financial Services has acquired a preferred equity interest in an underground salt dome storage project in Louisiana for $65m. GE bought the asset from Haddington Energy Partners, a Houston-based, energy-focused private equity fund.

The investment, which will also help cover the project’s capital expenditures, enables GE Energy Financial Services to expand in midstream energy, where it already co-owns pipelines, retail distribution and gas processing assets.

The Bobcat gas storage project is located in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, 45 miles from Henry Hub, the clearing point for NYMEX natural gas futures contracts and the most liquid trading point in the natural gas over-the-counter and cash markets.

GE Energy Financial Services will have a one-time option to convert its preferred interest to 50 percent common ownership of Bobcat within 90 days of the commencement of the project’s commercial operations. RBS Securities acted as advisor to Haddington Energy Partners in the sale of the preferred equity interest and is arranging $185m in senior secured credit facilities to be used in the construction, development and long-term financing.

According to GE, underground natural gas storage is a critical component of the US natural gas supply, balancing flat production and weather-driven, highly seasonal demand.

The project’s location, 1.5 miles southwest of Port Barre, provides access to natural gas from offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, onshore in Texas and Louisiana, as well as from the Barnett Shale.

Bobcat will interconnect with five major interstate pipelines — Florida Gas Transmission Company, Texas Eastern Transmission Corp, Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Corp, ANR Pipeline Company and Gulf South Pipeline Company. It will provide gas to five key US natural gas consuming markets: the Northeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Florida.

‘The Bobcat project benefits from its strategic location in the natural gas infrastructure grid, strong growth forecasts for US gas demand, and a need for more storage in the Gulf Coast markets,’ commented Dan Castagnola, a managing director at GE Energy Financial Services in Houston.

The Bobcat project is initially planned to provide up to 13.5 billion cubic feet of working gas storage capacity (Bcfw) in two new 6.75Bcfw underground salt caverns. Among underground gas storage facilities, salt caverns provide the greatest operational flexibility, supporting the widest range of storage.

Construction of the project commenced in December 2006, with service from Cavern 1 scheduled to begin during the third quarter of 2008 and Cavern 2 scheduled to enter operation in the third quarter of 2009. The project can be expanded to five caverns, bringing total capacity to approximately 34Bcfw. Construction costs for the first two caverns are estimated at $200m

The Bobcat salt dome structure begins 3,700 feet beneath the ground and extends to a depth of 14,000 feet. Beginning 500 feet below the top of the salt dome, each of two planned caverns will have a maximum diameter of 265 feet and depth of 1,300 feet.

To date, the project has executed contracts for 6Bcfw of natural gas, and has obtained all the necessary permits to commence the construction of the first two caverns.