It wasn’t dumb luck. While there were bumps in the road, to be sure, an unmatched level of transparency and a good dose of confidence in the contractor are what made the Sabine Pass LNG project a success.
The $18 billion, five-train Cheniere Energy terminal in Cameron Parish is an anomaly, as it was built on budget and on time in an era when megaprojects almost always exceed both. This culminated with an unprecedented achievement: In February 2016, the facility became the first to ship LNG from a commercial facility in the contiguous U.S.
So just how did the owner/contractor duo tackle the megaproject and not fall victim to the various pitfalls familiar to other jobs?
Ed Lehotsky, a former senior vice president and current executive advisor at Cheniere, and Darren Mort, Bechtel general manager, say adversity was the mother of invention.
“At Cheniere, we call it slaying dragons,” Lehotsky says. “They’d raise their heads and we’d have to step back and understand those dragons and eventually conquer them.”
Hurricanes proved to be one of the bigger dragons. Cheniere’s Gulf Coast sites were impacted by numerous storms over a 14-year period. While Hurricane Katrina in 2005 didn’t directly hit the Cameron site, it significantly impacted workforce availability. Shortly thereafter, Hurricane Rita scored a direct hit. Hurricane Ike in 2008 had a serious impact, and then there was Hurricane Harvey in 2017. “Harvey hit our Corpus Christi site very seriously,” Lehotsky says, “then circled around Houston and whacked into Sabine, flooding the site.”
At the time, the team could have easily added time to the schedule. Instead, Cheniere and Bechtel worked together to attract labor by raising salaries and building temporary housing for workers in the storms’ aftermaths. “We worked together as a team,” Lehotsky says. “We gave Bechtel assistance with getting things moving. In the process, we developed a kinship and a sense of teamwork that continues to this day. It was hard, but we learned a lot from it.”