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Singapore opens S$950m underground rock cavern at Jurong

Jurong Rock Caverns is Southeast Asia's first commercial underground rock cavern storage facility for liquid hydrocarbons.

SINGAPORE: The Jurong Rock Caverns (JRC), the first commercial underground rock cavern storage facility for liquid hydrocarbons in Southeast Asia, was officially opened on Tuesday (Sep 2). It will be a key support for Singapore's petrochemical industry.

Speaking at the opening, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says that with this experience, the Government is considering more subterranean projects. This includes building an underground science city, an underground warehousing and logistics facility, and potential underground caverns near CleanTech Park in Jurong.

He also said that the project shows Singapore's determination to build a petrochemical industry, despite land constraints and the potential impact of an impending United Nations agreement on carbon emissions, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

HOW THE JURONG CAVERNS WERE CONSTRUCTED 

The S$950-million dollar Jurong Rock Caverns took six years of planning, and another eight years of construction. It will be used to store liquid hydrocarbons such as crude oil and condensate.

The rock cavern was excavated using explosives, and it takes about one and a half to two years to excavate each rock cavern. The water pressure outside the cavern keeps the contents of the cavern in their place.

The caverns are the deepest known public works in Singapore to date - deeper than underpasses, the deep tunnel sewerage system, and four times deeper than Bras Brasah, the deepest station in the train network. Tunnels measuring 9km provide access to the caverns, and there are five of them, with a total capacity of 1.47 million cubic metres - a storage capacity equivalent to 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools..

Building this infrastructure underground was challenging, but worthwhile, said Mr Lee: "It costs more than doing it above ground, about 30 per cent more, in order to build the infrastructure to store oil and condensate underground, compared to reclaiming land, on a per unit of crude or condensate basis. This endeavour also involved immense challenges and significant risks. But we pursued it because it was worthwhile."

The caverns freed up 60 hectares of surface land for higher-value facilities, he noted, "and 60 hectares is enough to house up to six petrochemical plants. But more importantly, it opened up, for us, further possibilities for development, with the expertise and the confidence that we gained building these Caverns."

Mr Lee highlighted the importance of the petrochemical industry to Singapore: "We will develop the petrochemical industry, because the industry provides good jobs for Singaporeans, because it contributes significantly to our economy. In fact, the chemicals industry is one-third of our manufacturing output. And also, because we are determined to find all ways to make a living for ourselves in the world."

STILL BUILDING

Two of the caverns were completed this March and are already being used by Jurong Aromatics Corporation to store feedstock for its aromatics plant, which is currently being developed. The three remaining caverns are expected to be ready by end 2016.

Said Mr Loo Choon Yong, Chairman of JTC Corporation: "We also had to consider the commercial viability of the project. We worked with various stakeholders at the onset, to ensure that the JRC would match manufacturers' requirements so that we could market it successfully."

JTC says an extension, or a second phase, could be developed if there is industry demand. JTC also says that the 3.5 million cubic metres of rock excavated for this project will be used in land reclamation, and for paving roads.