Published November 11, 2008
News from the underground
The oil storage Jurong Rock Cavern project could herald more underground caverns for industrial purposes, reports EMILYN YAP
THE search for industrial space in land-scarce Singapore has seen JTC Corporation look up to the sky and out to the sea. And seeking more opportunities to create usable space, it is now looking underground.
The Jurong Rock Cavern (JRC) is its flagship project. The agency is tunnelling deep into the earth - more than 100 metres below sea level - to create the first underground rock cavern for oil storage in South-east Asia.
JRC was borne out of the need to meet demand from the oil storage industry. Singapore has already established itself as a major oil refining and distribution centre. It now has 4.6 million cu metres of independent petroleum storage and the private sector is constructing a further 3.5 million cu metres.
But even with this extra capacity, industry feedback points to a shortage of at least 3 million cu metres of storage. It would take more than 100 ha of land to make up that shortfall. And with housing, transport, recreation and many other competing uses for land, a different option had to be found.
As the key organisation propelling the island's industrial growth, JTC had to come up with an innovative solution to anchor the vital oil storage business. But after 40 years of challenges, it is used to thinking out of the box.
'Turning Jurong Rock Cavern into reality took years of hard work, imagination and perseverance by many parties within and outside the government,' Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang said at the ground-breaking for JRC in February last year. 'This spirit of constant innovation and breaking new ground will ensure that Singapore retains its ability to compete in a fast-changing and dynamic competitive environment.'
JRC will provide safe and secure storage for liquid hydrocarbons such as crude oil, condensate, naphtha and gasoil. The cavern will be up to 27 m high - equivalent to a nine-storey building. For greater stability, the inner wall will be lined with rock bolts.
Construction began beneath the seabed of Banyan Basin on Jurong Island, itself an engineering feat formed by the amalgamation of seven islands.
As the hub for Singapore's chemicals industry, Jurong Island houses more than 94 petroleum, petrochemical, specialty chemical and supporting companies. Big global names such as Chevron Philips, ExxonMobil, Mitsui Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemicals and Shell have set up there.
Locating JRC beneath Jurong Island adds to the infrastructural support that chemical companies on the island already enjoy. With third-party service providers extending support in the form of energy and water resources, tankage and terminal facilities, warehousing, maintenance and repair, petrochemical companies can focus on their core businesses.
As JTC's former chairman Soo Kok Leng said at the ground-breaking for JRC: 'This development is a strategic project that will enhance the cluster concept and bring new benefits to Jurong Island companies.'
The first phase of JRC will create 1.47 million cu metres of storage space when completed by 2014. The second phase is on the drawing board and could generate a further 1.32 million cu metres. This will free up valuable land for other uses such as higher-value manufacturing.
Both phases of JRC have already attracted strong interest from industry players, especially specialist chemical manufacturers on Jurong Island. Phase one could be completely taken up as phased completion starts in 2010.
JTC chief executive Ow Foong Pheng said in the agency's 2007 annual report: 'This bold project has made steady progress and JTC is currently in talks with several Jurong Island companies eager to use the facilities.'
Japanese firm Sato Kogyo is carrying out the detailed design and construction of JRC's access shafts and start-up galleries. A French-Singapore consortium Geo- stock-Jurong has won the contract to provide basic engineering design and construction management services for the caverns and associated facilities. JTC will award two key contracts this year. The first is to design and construct the caverns and ancillary facilities. The second is to appoint an operator to run and maintain JRC.
About $700 million has been spent kickstarting JRC, and due to the complexity and substantial cost, JTC was chosen to lead the project. This reflects how the agency's role has evolved over the years. From building and managing industrial facilities, it is turning its attention to master-planning industrial estates, allocating land for industrial use and preparing land with the right configuration of facilities.
As JTC chairman Cedric Foo said at the agency's 40th anniversary dinner in June: 'We must be a strategic infrastructure provider, undertaking large-scale specialised projects which Singapore requires for future economic growth and which the private sector lacks the capability or confidence to take on.'
Besides JRC, JTC is looking at using Very Large Floating Structures (VLFS) for storing oil products and petrochemicals. The VLFS will also provide additional infrastructure for the refining, petrochemicals and oil trading sectors here. When completed, JRC will address overwhelming demand for oil storage and bolster Singapore's position as a global chemical hub. It will also be a statement of JTC's pioneering and dare-to-do spirit over the years.
But the completion of JRC will not mark the end of work for JTC. Underground caverns can be used for other purposes such as power plants and data or logistics centres. Much potential remains to be uncovered.
Jurong Rock Cavern: Located
beneath Banyan Basin off Jurong Island
- itself an engineering feat amalgamating
seven islands - the Jurong Rock Cavern stands at 27 metres in height, equivalent to a 9-storey building