After Australia’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) ordered Shell to shut down its giant Prelude LNG offshore gas facility until it can demonstrate it has made safety improvements.
Earlier this month, a small fire in an electrical compartment cut off power to Prelude, forcing a shutdown and a rush to get the generators back on track. According to NOPSEMA, this restart attempt failed repeatedly and Prelude was cut off from power for three days. When HVAC was offline, heat exhaustion from rising temperatures inside the ship brought two workers to Prelude’s hospital bay.
According to WA Today, Prelude’s automatic security systems shut down all production systems and began flaring gas when the fire was discovered. This interrupted the gas supply for the plant’s steam-fed turbine generators. An emergency diesel generator could not be started, and two emergency diesel generators kept tripping and also failing.
The blackout momentarily cut off all communications on the platform and the crew reportedly had to call a nearby support ship via VHF to broadcast messages. The auxiliary ship served as a relay station and sent text messages to management ashore via a satellite phone.
“What happened earlier this month at the Prelude under the supervision of Shell is unforgivable,” said Brad Gandy, spokesman for the Offshore Alliance and local secretary for the Australian Workers Union. “This is not the first time similar errors have occurred with the Prelude and Shell clearly has not learned from past mistakes.”
NOPSEMA inspectors boarded the Prelude December 9-10, and their report was not positive. “The inspectors concluded that the operator did not have a sufficient understanding of the risks of the facility’s electricity network, including failure mechanisms, interdependencies and recovery,” said NOPSEMA.
Inspectors found that the power outage affected communications, access to the ship’s safety documentation, evacuation systems for helicopter or boat transfers, lighting, drinking water, safety systems, HVAC, wastewater treatment, and some of the key process equipment.
Crew members told WA Today that they would manually dispose of human waste because the sewer system was turned off and, with no power for the transfer pumps, they had to move diesel cans by hand to keep an emergency generator running.
The problems aboard the Prelude could not have affected a more sophisticated ship. Along with the $ 13 billion aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, Prelude is a top contender for the title of Most Complex and Expensive Ship Ever Built: Although its final cost has not been disclosed, it is estimated at $ 12-17 billion. After the heavy lift ship Pioneering Spirit, the Prelude is the second largest ship in the world after displacement.
Inferring that Shell was unable to manage such a complex asset, NOPSEMA ordered that Prelude must be closed until the operator can convince regulators that “after a power outage, the facility will supply essential electricity and can safely restore associated essential services, and that the security systems and essential support systems are used to maintain the safety of personnel. “