S’pore digs deep to realise oil storage dream

By Chia Yan Min, Straits Times

SINGAPORE yesterday unveiled its latest engineering feat to overcome the constraints of land – an underground commercial storage facility for oil products.

The ambitious Jurong Rock Caverns took six years of planning and a further eight of construction at a cost of $950 million, with about 1,700 workers employed.

Declaring it officially open, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a ceremony on Jurong Island that the endeavour was challenging, risky and expensive, but will ultimately prove rewarding.

Mr Lee noted that the Jurong Rock Caverns was “born out of this same spirit of innovation and determination” behind Jurong Island, another ambitious project that involved amalgamating seven southern islands.

He cited the benefits the caverns bring – they free up 60ha of land, or 70 football fields, above ground – but noted also that they demonstrate how Singapore can “create new space for (itself) both physically and metaphorically”.

The facility also signals Singapore’s determination to develop its petrochemical industry, which makes up about a third of the country’s manufacturing output and provides “good jobs for Singaporeans”, he added.

Mr Lee noted that Singapore has become a world-class petrochemical hub despite its land constraints and the fact that it produces no crude oil or feedstock.

The caverns, which are also a first in South-east Asia, sit 150m below the Jurong Island energy and chemicals hub – or four times further underground than Singapore’s deepest MRT station. They are Singapore’s deepest underground public works endeavour to date.

Adding to the complexity was the challenge of having to construct the caverns 130m beneath the seabed. Industrial landlord JTC also had to build 9km of tunnels.

The five nine-storey-high caverns will be used to store 1.47 million cubic metres of liquid hydrocarbons such as crude oil and condensate – equivalent to 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Liquid hydrocarbons are usually stored in large tanks above ground.

Two of the five caverns have already been leased to Jurong Aromatics Corporation to store feedstock for its upcoming aromatics plant on Jurong Island. The other three are expected to be operational by 2016.

Dr Loo Choon Yong, chairman of JTC, told the ceremony that the project planning process, which included numerous study missions abroad and extensive soil and rock investigations, was “rigorous and intense”.

The project was riskier and more complex than above-ground facilities, he added.

It was also expensive: It costs about 30 per cent more to build storage infrastructure underground than to reclaim land, but the space above ground can be used for higher value-added activities such as petrochemical plants.

With Jurong Rock Caverns behind it, JTC is now exploring other subterranean projects, said Dr Loo, adding: “Land will always be scarce in Singapore, but with human creativity and ingenuity, we continue to find ways to do more with less.”

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