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Shell Playing With Fire On PRELUDE FLNG

Email from John Donovan to Mr Andy Hacking, Branch President Australian Workers Union.

Dear Mr Hacking

I am writing to you in your capacity as AWU WA branch Secretary and spokesman for the Offshore Alliance representing many Shell Prelude FLNG workers.

As you will be aware Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is driving natural gas prices ever higher amid a potential shortage of gas in many markets. 

Will the energy crisis cause reckless employers like Shell to endanger the lives of their workers, some of whom, as I have already mentioned, are your members?

There does seem to be a recipe for potential disaster arising from the controversial Prelude project – a risky experiment that has already survived a series of extremely dangerous close calls ending in a shutdown – being restarted prematurely, driven by greed to take advantage of a crisis situation. 

I pose this question in view of the publication of recent articles starting with one published by my website, in collaboration with Bill Campbell, the retired HSE Group Auditor of Shell International. 

Please glance through our recent article:

The Hindenburg, The Titanic and Shell Prelude FLNG


I am sure Mr Campbell would be happy to answer any questions you may have in regards to the information he has supplied to various interested parties.

This email has been published as an article: 19 March 2022. 



World’s largest vessel waits off Broome, poised to cash in on soaring gas price

By Peter Milne: Updated 

Shell has put its case to the offshore safety regulator to resume production from its troubled Prelude LNG facility three months after a series of power failures sent the $24 billion showpiece into a series of dangerous blackouts.

Shell and its partners in the Prelude have lost the capacity to produce 3.6 million tonnes of LNG a year just as global gas prices skyrocket due to doubts over continued supply from Russia.

On Thursday, WA Energy Minister Bill Johnston said Australian LNG producers would be looking for every molecule of natural gas they could get.

“If you owned LNG infrastructure, you’d be wanting to sweat it as much as you could right now because the price is just enormous,” Mr Johnston said.

In early December, the world’s largest vessel moored 475 kilometres from Broome in WA’s North West was plunged into chaos by cascading failures of power and life support systems.

The Anglo-Dutch oil and gas giant’s investigation into problems on its 488 metre-long facility is in response to directions from the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) that must be completed before the Prelude resumes production.

In the confidential early March report obtained by WAtoday, Shell outlined 42 actions it would take to make the Prelude safe. The report classified 18 of those actions as required before production restarts and listed them all as due to be completed by March 15 or earlier.

A Shell spokeswoman said the company would work methodically to prepare for restart.

“We have not provided a timeframe for restart as our focus remains on working through the process with the safety of people and stability of the facility foremost in mind,” she said.

Power problems of the Prelude began on December 2, 2021, when a fire broke out in a room housing a battery backup system. Shell’s investigation was unable to determine the exact nature of the failure, so the company instead plans to address all the possible causes it identified.

The fire triggered an emergency shutdown of the Prelude after which there were several days of failed attempts to fully restore power.

To be allowed to restart production, Shell must convince NOPSEMA it can safely recover essential power and services following a loss of power and that it can keep Prelude’s crew safe.

A NOPSEMA spokeswoman said it was reviewing Shell’s plan to determine if it was satisfactory.

“Ventilation and air conditioning, potable water and sewerage systems were impaired during the outage, which resulted in the facility becoming increasingly uninhabitable,” Shell’s report noted, leading to it more than halving crew numbers from 293 to 137.

During the power outages crew had to carry cans of diesel up numerous flights of stairs in the humid heat to fill a fuel tank for a standby generator. Two crew members involved in the effort, but not carrying fuel, needed medical treatment for heat stress.

Shell’s investigation found that manual filling could have been avoided but the operation of an automatic fuel supply system had not been documented in emergency procedures.

In total, seven crew became ill from the heat and four required medical treatment.

Shell’s investigation found hot living quarters with limited airflow, the need to relay messages up and down stairs because communication systems failed, and a lack of sleep due to long hours and constant emergency musters contributed to heat stress among the crew.

When Prelude shut down its process equipment was emptied of oil and gas to make the vessel safer. The hydrocarbons were burnt at the top of a giant flare tower designed to keep the intense heat away from the vessel and crew.

The process, called a blowdown, should occur in a certain sequence but electrical problems caused the final stage to start two minutes early.

Shell found a mistimed blowdown could cause excessive vibration resulting in an uncontrolled escape of gas and excessive heat that would make it harder for crew to cross open areas of the vessel.

NOPSEMA’s initial investigation in December found there could have been a “catastrophic failure” due to structural steel near the Prelude’s LNG tanks cooling excessively during the power outage.

Shell’s report said some steel could have fractured if the power outage had continued but an escape of gas was “not credible” due to the design of the tanks.

The NOPSEMA spokeswoman said the regulator had identified risks associated with the LNG in the tanks and potential impacts on the integrity of the facility.

“Shell has responded to this finding in its report and NOPSEMA is considering this information,” she said.

The December incident came at the end of the first year the unique and complex Prelude had achieved significant production since it arrived in Australian waters in 2017.

The vessel accounted for most of Shell’s 3 per cent increase in gas production in 2021 and a 6 per cent jump in liquids production, according to Shell’s 2021 annual report released on Thursday.

At full capacity, the Prelude can produce 1.3 million tonnes of light oil called condensate and 400,000 tonnes of LPG in a year, as well as 3.6 million tonnes of LNG.

The Prelude has a bad record of flaring, or burning, excessive amounts of gas. The practice, in part due to frequent shutdowns, produces significant amounts of carbon emissions.

Shell excluded Prelude’s emissions from its calculation of the emissions intensity of its global production in 2021.



Shell’s Prelude LNG Export Plant Cleared by Regulator to Restart

Stephen Stapczynski: Bloomberg News: March 18, 2022, 7:45 AM

Shell Plc has been cleared by Australia’s regulator to resume operations of its giant Prelude floating liquefied natural gas facility that has been shut since December due to a power failure.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority said that Shell fulfilled a direction ordered in December, and that Prelude is now allowed to resume operations, according to a spokesperson for the regulator. That paves the way for the world’s largest floating LNG platform to restart exports as early as April, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Shell couldn’t immediately comment.

The development will provide much-needed …



Shell gets green light to restart giant Prelude LNG vessel off WA coast

By Peter Milne

Shell has received an all-clear to restart its $24 billion Prelude LNG vessel off the coast of Broome, three months after a fire triggered a cascade of failures that shut down numerous power and safety systems vital to the welfare of nearly 300 crew.

The Prelude’s problems began in early December 2021 when a small fire triggered an emergency shutdown that depressurised the Prelude’s complex plant by sending vast quantities of gas to a flare tower to be burnt.

With no gas to generate power, the Prelude relied on three diesel backup units that all failed to work properly. The fire was quickly extinguished but for several days Prelude’s multitude of complex systems to keep the vessel and its 293 crew safe only operated sporadically due to a lack of reliable power.

Crew reported temperatures as high as 45 degrees in their living quarters with humidity making it difficult to walk on the wet floors. Some crew worked 30-hour shifts to fix a cascade of technical problems.

Four of seven crew treated for heat exhaustion required intravenous drips.

Most communications systems failed and more than half the crew were evacuated from the vessel moored 475 kilometres north-east of Broome.

Offshore regulator NOPSEMA concluded the unreliable power produced “significantly higher than normal” risks on the Prelude, including cooling of structural steel near the vast LNG tanks that “could lead to catastrophic failure if unmitigated”. A repeat of the incident was “foreseeable and credible.”

The regulator said Shell did not sufficiently understand the power system on the world’s largest floating vessel and directed it to halt production until it could keep the Prelude safe if the power failed again.

To restart Shell had to determine what happened, develop a plan to fix all the problems identified, and convince NOPSEMA it could safely recover power if it failed again.

On Friday, the regulator closed out the direction, removing any regulatory constraints on Shell bringing the Prelude back to production just as the LNG market is booming as Europe scours the globe for alternatives to Russian gas.

Several days before the regulator removed its bar on production a Shell spokeswoman said it would work methodically to prepare for restart.

“We have not provided a timeframe for restart as our focus remains on working through the process with the safety of people and stability of the facility foremost in mind,” she said.

In December Brad Gandy, AWU WA branch secretary and spokesman for the Offshore Alliance that represents many Prelude workers, said the December failures were unforgivable.

“This is not the first time similar failures have occurred on the Prelude and clearly Shell has not learned from its past mistakes,” he said.

The December fire came after the 488 metre-long Prelude had achieved steady production for some time after a string of problems in its first few years.

The Prelude was built in South Korea and towed to Australia in mid-2017, 18 months behind schedule, and did not produce LNG for another two years while problems with the complex facility were fixed.



Related: Shell cleared to restart Prelude LNG output off Australia

By Reuters

By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE – Australia’s offshore petroleum watchdog has cleared the way for Shell to restart its Prelude floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) site off northwestern Australia, after a power outage forced a shutdown in December.

Shell has given no timeframe for when production will resume at the 3.6 million tonnes a year facility.

Power was cut at the site after smoke was detected in an electrical utility area.

Following the outage, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority ordered the company to set out a plan and fix any problems to prove the facility could operate safely in the event of a power loss before being allowed to resume operations.

That order was updated to “closed” last Friday.

“Shell notes confirmation from NOPSEMA that Direction 1860 has been closed,” a Shell spokesperson said on Monday.

“We continue to work methodically through the stages in the process to prepare for hydrocarbon restart with safety and stability foremost in mind.”

The outage at Prelude was one factor that drove up LNG prices in December. Prices have since rocketed to record highs as Europe has scrambled for gas to replace Russian exports hit by sanctions.


Australia’s Prelude LNG cleared for restart

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