Equinor’s Barents Sea LNG plant will stay closed for the rest of the year after a major fire

"We will use the time we need to ensure a safe start-up."

The Melkøya LNG plant on the Barents Sea coast will remain closed for the rest of 2020. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Norway’s state-owned oil and gas company Equinor is investigating a September 28 fire at the Hammerfest liquefied natural gas plant at Melkøya, and now says it will take time to restart production there.

A Norwegian government watchdog agency said the fire in an electricity-generating turbine at the plant was one of the most serious in Norway’s petroleum history. Black smoke rose to the skies as emergency services fought the flames from both land and sea.

The fire, scaring locals in the nearby town of Hammerfest, was extinguished after six hours.

[A fire at an LNG plant in Arctic Norway was ‘very close to a worst case scenario’]

Hammerfest LNG has informed the market about the plant being closed for the rest of the year, Equinor spokesperson Eskil Eriksen, told the news agency NTB. He would not to speculate on the economical consequences for the company, partly owned by the Norwegian state.

The closure also means a halt in shipment of LNG to the markets, mainly in Europe.

Two weeks before the date of the fire, a gas leak occurred at the plant, and the investigation aims to make clear if the fire can in any way be related to the leak.

“We are now working to map the extent of damages after the fire and will then thoroughly review the technical integrity of the facility,” says Irne Rummelhoff, executive vice president of marketing, midstream and processing at Equinor.

She underlines the focus on safety before restarting the plant. “Safety comes first, and we will use the time we need to ensure a safe start-up. It is still too early to say when the operations can resume.”

“Equinors’ and the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway’s investigation will be important in identifying measures that will prevent similar incidents from happening again. We will support the investigation and the police investigation where there is a need for it,” says Rummelhoff.

The facility on the small Arctic island 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.