Freeport LNG corrective actions sought by US regulators before terminal restart
US regulators want Freeport LNG to take corrective actions and seek their approval before resuming normal operations at the Texas export facility that has been shut down since a June 8 explosion and fire.
The directive could affect the timeline the operator has issued to the market for restoring service. Freeport LNG hopes to resume partial service in about 90 days and full service in late 2022. The three-train 15 million mt/year capacity terminal accounts for about 15% of US LNG supply, which has become increasingly important to serving European demand amid sharp cuts in Russian pipeline gas to the continent.
Freeport LNG has 30 days to respond to the directive, which amounts to a proposal before a final order is issued.
“As a result of the preliminary investigation, it appears conditions exist at Freeport’s LNG export facility that pose an integrity risk to public safety, property, or the environment,” the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said in a June 30 letter to Freeport LNG.
A spokeswoman for the operator said she had no immediate comment.
PHMSA said it proposes to issue to Freeport LNG a safety order that among, other things, would require the operator to receive written approval from the director of the agency before returning to normal operations. In the meantime, it would have to provide weekly updates to the director on the temperature and density of the LNG stored in the terminal’s three LNG storage tanks.
Corrective actions that would be required in the order include submitting an evaluation of the LNG storage tanks operating modes. The evaluation would have to be performed by an approved independent third party. Inspection and testing procedures also would be required, as would a root cause failure analysis. A final report would have to include findings, any lessons learned, and whether the findings and any lessons learned are applicable to the entirety of Freeport’s operations.
PHMSA said that after receiving and analyzing additional data in the course of the proceeding, it may identify other corrective measures that Freeport must perform.
According to PHMSA, the explosion and associated fire occurred in a pipe rack near the LNG storage tanks at the liquefaction facility. An estimated 120,000 cubic feet of LNG was reported to be released within the facility.
“Although the root cause of the failure has yet to be confirmed, preliminary evidence suggests that an isolated pressure safety valve created an overpressure situation in 300 feet of vacuum insulated piping,” PHMSA said in its letter to Freeport LNG. “The 300 feet of pipe was subjected to an overpressure situation which burst the pipe and allowed LNG and methane to be released into the facility. The sudden release of LNG and methane from the piping caused a subsequent explosion and fire that damaged piping and components in the plant.”
Two LNG storage tanks at Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana were offline for more than four years after a 2018 leak. The length of the tanks’ outage stemmed in part from extensive corrective actions that PHMSA required of Cheniere before giving the go-ahead in March of this year for one of the two tanks to resume service. Cheniere has had use of its other storage tanks, and its export operations were not meaningfully impacted. In Freeport LNG’s case, it cannot produce LNG with its three liquefaction trains offline.