The line that snagged a Boston Harbor Cruises boat this week was attached to what is known as a “liquid natural gas offloading facility,” a relatively new project built to add capacity to the region’s energy supply.
Excelerate Energy’s Northeast Gateway Deepwater Port is one of two constructed off the North Shore in the past decade.
The $350 million facility has struggled in recent years with the decline in imported gas. A Globe report last year noted that it hadn’t taken any deliveries since it opened in 2008.
Excelerate officials didn’t respond Tuesday to requests for comment about the facility’s recent usage or how it had been affected by Monday’s incident. Boston Harbor Cruises said the only damage was to a mooring line from the facility and to its ship.
“There was no LNG or [LNG regasification] vessel at the facility. This was not an LNG-related event in any regard,” a spokeswoman said.
Boston Harbor Cruises has acknowledged that the vessel strayed into a “restricted navigation area” and promised the company would cooperate with a Coast Guard investigation.
On Northeast Gateway’s website, the company points out that the LNG port is in a location that is home to a population of massive right whales, a species whose numbers were critically decreased by hunting in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
Excelerate says it has been working with Cornell University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to protect the animals, developing what it describes as the “first LNG terminal to integrate state-of-the-art marine mammal detection technology.”
“Aided by this tool,” the site says, “our ships voluntarily reduce speeds around sensitive areas, employ emissions-reduction systems and drastically reduce seawater intake and discharge.”
During the time that the facility (along with another one nearby) was being planned and built, natural gas imports were up, and so was interest in LNG, which is cooled and condensed for shipping and storage.
The market has changed dramatically since then, as new domestic supplies have come online through the controversial drilling practice known as fracking, which releases the plentiful natural gas buried in shale rock formations.
Now, companies like Excelerate and its peers are thinking about ways to export gas from the US, according to Michelle Michot Foss, chief energy economist at the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas.
However, she said, Excelerate’s Massachusetts facility remains a useful piece of infrastructure. The offshore port is connected to a regional pipeline, and LNG tankers can use it to turn their cargo back into gas, then circulate it to where it’s needed.
The US market for energy can change rapidly, and Foss said Northeast Gateway makes it easy to get more product to market quickly. Busy onshore LNG terminals like the one operated by GDF Suez in Everett don’t have as much flexibility in their shipments, she said. So if demand spikes, offshore ports can help keep supplies — and potentially prices — stable.
“People had been trying to come up with good, small-scale, marine-based facilities for a long time,” Foss said.
Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.