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Safety strife for Shell’s LNG giant Prelude

The Prelude project will be fired up 475 kilometres north-east of Broome, ready to liquefy natural gas straight from the ocean floor and ship it around the world.

Peter Milne: The West Australian: 

Shell has struggled through a series of safety missteps as it readies its cutting-edge Prelude floating LNG vessel for production.

Shell reported 17 incidents to the offshore safety regulator NOPSEMA between May and October 2018 that the regulator classified as dangerous occurrences.

The reports, obtained by WestBusiness through a freedom of information request, show the challenges facing hundreds of WA workers that have helicoptered about 500km back and forth between Broome and the 488m-long giant since it arrived from South Korea in July 2017.

One difficulty with floating LNG vessels is that an LNG carrier must berth alongside as the two vessels bob about in the sea, unlike floating oil production facilities that offload oil to a tanker a safe distance away through long flexible hoses.

In early May 2018 Shell tried to bring the LNG carrier Gallina alongside.

A tow rope to a tug failed when the 290m-long carrier was just 50m from Prelude and the operation had to be aborted.

That problem was caused by a tow rope that was incorrectly assembled.

Nine days later something as trivial as wrongly shaped plastic thwarted another attempt to load LNG on to Prelude.

It was thought the Gallina was safely secured to the Prelude by 16 mooring lines that ran through guides on the Prelude called fairleads. As the crew prepared to connect the LNG loading arms a mooring line failed and the Gallina was released and pulled away.

Afterwards it was found that all 16 lines had been significantly damaged by rubbing against sharp edges of nylon liners in the fairleads.

This seemingly trifling detail could have caused a “complete mooring failure” with “potential for serious consequences” if it had occurred later while LNG was being transferred.

Two weeks later the Gallina successfully offloaded its LNG and Prelude had gas to power itself and test its processing plant.

However, having gas on board the Prelude increased the risks Shell had to manage.

A flange leaked near the LNG loading arms as super-cold -162C LNG sitting at the bottom of a pipe caused it to contract and bend.

Another type of gas, hydrogen sulphide, was released when construction debris from the Korean shipyard was being removed from a tank and the area was evacuated.

In July a fire damper intended to keep gas from entering the air-conditioning system for the accommodation quarters failed to close when tested but was repaired quickly.

In August, Prelude lost all its power supply when a pump sending water to a gas-fired boiler tripped.

All workers on the Prelude and the attached 750-bed Posh Arcadia floating hotel went to their muster stations as the diesel emergency generators powered up to supply essential services.

But a transformer failed and the system to cover the deck with firefighting foam was left without power and unable to operate.

Other problems included a test of a system to cover the top of LNG tanks with a deluge of water in an emergency that found it delivered only half the planned amount of water as the system used undersized valves.

There was a small fire when dust in an oxygen cylinder valve ignited, leading to a muster of all personnel.

Newly installed insulation on a hot high-pressure steam line was seen smouldering and when the insulation was pulled away it caught fire. The insulation had been secured by combustible tape.

A Shell spokeswoman said the company had a rigorous program on Prelude to identify and manage risk in a controlled way.

“It is not unexpected for issues to arise during this phase of a project and it is standard practice to notify NOPSEMA,” she said. “We are proud of our safety and reporting culture.”

She said Shell encouraged workers to raise safety concerns.



July: Prelude arrives from Korea


May: Tow line to tug fails, mooring lines fail

June: LNG loaded onto Prelude, gas leak, flood detection not working

July: Hydrogen sulfide leak, flooded machinery room, fire dampers did not close

August: No power to fire-fighting foam

September: Smouldering insulation

October: Small fire

December: 750-bed accommodation vessel for additional workers leaves, wells opened and gas flows to Prelude.


February: Preparing for first export of condensate



The links below are to a series of articles, many triggered by a well-placed whistleblower directly involved in the pioneering Royal Dutch Shell Prelude project. Includes articles by Mr Bill Campbell, the retired distinguished HSE Group Auditor of Shell International and another retired Shell guru with a track record of spotting potential pitfalls in major Shell projects.

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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