These German Engineers Pulled Off A Five-Year Engineering Feat In A Matter Of Months


In March, the German government asked energy companies to work on a new liquefied natural gas import terminal in a year instead of five years, which is a usual time frame for the task. 

“This project is really a race against time,” said pipeline project manager Franz-Josef Kissing. “It’s a battle.”

Ever since the Russian natural gas has been cut off, Europe is finding ways to cover up the gap. If not, governments might have to resort to rationing fuel this winter. 

The three German liquefied natural gas terminals scheduled for completion for this year could cover at least 15% of the country’s gas demand. The country has budgeted more than €6.5 billion for such terminals in 2022.

Mr. Kissing’s employer, pipeline builder Open Grid Europe GmbH, formed a team with specialists in route planning and nature conservation, archaeology, and law.

A floating LNG terminal is a gas facility on an enormous specialised tanker that receives liquid gas from another tanker and returns it to a gaseous state.

The jetty that will be home to the floating Wilhelmshaven terminal is an especially complicated project because it has to withstand the force of two large, gas-filled ships pressing against it. For Niedersachsen Ports GmbH & Co. KG, which is building the jetty, the first issue was acquiring materials fast. Mathias Lüdicke, the company’s Wilhelmshaven branch manager, said the company had to scour Europe for construction materials, including the steel piles that would be driven into the seabed.

“We needed stuff that’s ready,” Mr. Lüdicke said. “So we changed the whole planning process as we went along, based on what was available.”

Employees worked through Easter weekend to get the necessary documents ready. “Nobody paid attention to overtime because we all said, this has to work,” Mr. Lüdicke said.

The German bureaucracy made adjustments, too. The parliament passed an LNG Acceleration Act, speeding up procedures for reviewing, approving and awarding contracts for LNG projects.

“If there is a chance in this really terrible situation, it is that we shake off all this sleepiness and, in some cases, grouchiness that exists in Germany,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in March about speeding up the construction of LNG terminals.

Another problem was that the soil in the region has high concentrations of sulphate acid, which could become toxic under some circumstances if exposed to oxygen for too long.

Also, the groundwater level was high. The trenches had to be dry to weld the pipes together.

Mr. Kissing’s 800 workers worked in 400-foot increments, drained the trenches with pumps, then backfilled them.

“You may rush as much as you want, but soil is soil,” Mr. Kissing said while walking around the site on a recent rainy morning.

The groundwater also contained more iron than usual. So the company had to build special de-ironing facilities to filter the water before dumping it back into nearby fields.

Niedersachsen Ports also searched for unexploded World War II ordnance. The company scanned the seabed and removed some smaller ordnance.

In September, the Wilhelmshaven sea lock had a mechanical failure.

Mr. Lüdicke found a solution with waterway authority and German navy. The port would allow the ships carrying the piles to pass through the lock with just one gate open, but only when the tides were such that the water levels were equal.

“It was a very fine balancing act, a lot of coordination,” Mr. Lüdicke said. “If we hadn’t managed to do that, we wouldn’t have been able to launch the terminal this year.”

In September, explosions damaged the Nord Stream pipelines running under the Baltic Sea. The local police dispatched officers along the route of the new pipeline, and boats patrolled around the jetty.

Mr. Lüdicke is hoping the weather stay pleasant as bad weather can hinder the progress.  

Utility Uniper SE said that if all goes according to plan, the first tanker carrying LNG will arrive at the start of next year.

“If we have extreme weather, that could cause problems and delay things,” Mr. Lüdicke said. “We’re so close.”


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