After a major fire, Norway’s Arctic LNG plant could be closed for up to a year

A September fire came close to during into a major disaster, authorities have said.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - October 28, 2020
The Melkøya LNG plant on Norway’s Barents Sea coast. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Equinor’s Barents Sea LNG plant at Melkøya near Hammerfest in Northern Norway could be shut down until October 2021, after severe damage caused by a fire there in September.

“Safety is the first priority and we will not start the plant until we are sure that it can be done in a safe way. Therefore, we have worked systematically and thoroughly to survey the damage after the fire, and assess the technical condition of the plant,” says plant director Andreas Sandvik.

It was on September 28 a serious fire broke out at one of the plant’s five power turbines. The fire was later described as “very close to a worst case scenario.”

Equinor on Monday said surveys of the damage after the fire indicates that liquefied natural gas production will be halted for up to 12 months.

The fire damaged the power turbine, but in addition, large amounts of salty seawater from the extinguishing have damaged other auxiliary systems such as electrical cables and equipment in the plant.

Large amount of seawater was pumped at the plant from ships to cool down the nearby structures next to the fire itself at the plant.

A police investigation is currently underway, additional to the investigation by the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway and Equinor itself.

Duration of the shutdown will depend on the delivery time of necessary equipment.

“Although a lot of inspection work still remains and there is still significant uncertainty, our best estimate now is that that it may take up until 1 October 2021 to get Hammerfest LNG back into production,” Sandvik says.

Equinor will use the shutdown period to carry out other maintenance and repair for planned for 2021. A senior company official adds Equinor will learn from the incident: “The fire at Hammerfest LNG was a serious incident. The various investigations into the incident will be important in order to identify measures that will prevent similar incidents from happening again,” says Grete B. Haaland, senior vice president for Equinor’s onshore facilities.

The annual export capacity from the plant outside Hammerfest is 5.75 billion cubic meters, equivalent to 4.2 million tonnes.

The facility on the small Arctic island (Melkøya) outside Hammerfest receives and processes natural gas from the Snøhvit field in the Barents Sea. The gas is conveyed in a 160-kilometer gas pipeline to the facility, which became operational in the autumn of 2007. Equinor was the operator during the development phase and now has operational responsibility for the facility. Partners to the plant are Petoro, Total, Neptune Energy and Wintershall Dea.