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Shell’s Ingenious Shortcut: Prioritizing Profits Over Prelude’s Persistent Problems


Posted by John Donovan

7 Sept 2023

In an act that can only be described as a masterclass in cutting corners, Shell decided against shutting down its prodigious Prelude liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility off Australia for a whole year to rectify the myriad issues plaguing its operations. Why bother with such trivial matters as design flaws and safety when there’s money to be made, am I right?

Instead, Shell opted for a shorter, two-month maintenance plan because apparently “strong gas demand” is a suitable reason to ignore the ever-persistent problems.

Ah, the Prelude facility—its deck is longer than four soccer fields, isn’t it a marvel? At an estimated cost of over $12 billion, it’s no wonder that they can’t afford to pause operations for extensive repairs. The floating mega-barge situated 475 km (300 miles) off Australia’s coast has had its share of ‘bad luck’ since it began operations in June 2019. From a fire causing a full power loss in December 2021 to multiple outages, it’s practically a tradition at this point.

Now, industry insiders reveal that this two-month “quickie” in maintenance will not cover all design issues. But, you know, it’s just a 3.6-million-ton-per-year LNG plant. What could possibly go wrong if it keeps experiencing operational issues?

Shell’s justification is a classic: The company didn’t want to miss out on sales of LNG in times of high demand. How noble of them! It’s not like long-term reliability would ever be beneficial for their financial statements or anything.

Shell CEO Wael Sawan, who previously led the company’s glorious LNG division, assumed office in January and vowed to improve operational reliability and boost financial performance. Given the circumstances, one might wonder how loosely Shell defines the term “improvement.”

Their spokesperson explained that “turnarounds are a regular part of maintaining LNG facilities and are planned well in advance.” It’s just that their “well in advance” planning skipped 2022 due to industrial action and “cyclone season.” Perhaps Mother Nature is sending signals that even she doesn’t want the plant operating?

According to accurate calculations, the Prelude facility has been shut down for at least 500 days since its grand launch. But don’t worry, Shell assures us that they are focusing on “urgent and significant problems” during the current maintenance. The other not-so-significant reliability issues will likely just have to stand in line for their turn, possibly leading to more outages.

Cederic Cremers, the executive vice president of Shell’s LNG business, let us know that they’ve seen “very strong improvement over the first half of the year.” What metric they’re using for ‘improvement’ remains a mystery that perhaps only the deep ocean could solve.

In summary, hats off to Shell for demonstrating how to give lip service to “sustainability” while letting the world’s first floating LNG facility float aimlessly through a sea of problems.

By the way, should Shell find any tiny inaccuracies here (not that we’d ever exaggerate), they’re most welcome to correct us.


The links below are to a series of related articles stretching back almost a decade, some triggered by a well-placed whistleblower directly involved in the  Prelude project. Includes articles by Mr Bill Campbell (right), the former distinguished HSE Group Auditor of Shell International (now sadly deceased). A good loyal friend that I never met.

ARTICLE: Voser wisely abandons an unstable ship: 28 December 2013

ARTICLE: Royal Dutch Shell Prelude to disaster?: 10 Jan 2014

ARTICLE: Shell Prelude FLNG: loss of containment of hydrocarbons almost inevitable: 21 Feb 2014

ARTICLE: What should frighten stiff Royal Dutch Shell shareholders: 15 March 2014

ARTICLE: Tales of the Unexpected and Royal Dutch Shell Prelude FLNG: 28 March 2014

ARTICLE: Prelude FLNG: A case of all your eggs in the one basket: 10 July 2014

ARTICLE: Prelude FLNG risks are on par with modern offshore oil and gas facilities say Shell – but are they?: 23 Sept 2014

ARTICLE: Royal Dutch Shell Prelude Project ‘A Step Too Far’: 25 Sept 2014

ARTICLE: SpaceShip Two: Shell Prelude another pioneering venture fraught with risk: 2 November 2014

ARTICLE: WA turns spotlight on FLNG safety: 11 November 2014

ARTICLE: Prelude a giant production and processing barge masquerading as a ship: 11 November 2014

ARTICLE: Sunday Times Article: Prelude a potential white elephant: 11 November 2014

ARTICLE: Damning Verdict on Shell’s Prelude FLNG Propaganda: 12 November 2014

ARTICLE: Combustible pioneering behemoths – the Hindenburg and Shell Prelude: 21 November 2014

ARTICLE: Key role of Shell lawyers in pioneering Shell Prelude FLNG: 05 December 2014

ARTICLE: The Future of Natural Gas: LNG vs. FLNG: 26 Feb 2015

ARTICLE: The Sydney Morning Herald: WA inquiry shines spotlight on floating LNG safety fears: 8 May 2015

ARTICLE: THE WEST AUSTRALIAN: Delays slow Prelude’s sail-away: 11 April 2016

ARTICLE: THE WEST AUSTRALIAN: Gas industry needs to work harder, innovate: Shell boss: 12 April 2016

ARTICLE: ENERGY VOICE: GE starts production on Shell’s Prelude risers, must withstand a 1-in-10,000-year cyclonic event: 11 April 2016

ARTICLE: THE AUSTRALIAN: Shell chief Ben van Beurden backs FLNG program:13 April 2016

ARTICLE: THE WEST AUSTRALIAN: Enthusiasm cools for Prelude FLNG: 13 April 2016

ARTICLE: BY JOHN DONOVAN: Musings about the OPL 245 Shell/ENI corruption scandal and the sinking confidence in Prelude: 13 April 2016

ARTICLE: BY BILL CAMPBELL: Project Prelude – A case study in the generation of real material debt: 17 April 2016/a>

Hazardex: Shell Australia’s giant Prelude floating LNG project likely to come on stream in 2017: 20 Sept 2016

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