WA workers on a Japanese LNG project off the Kimberley coast are in danger because shoddy electrical work could cause a deadly gas explosion, according to damning internal company documents.
With the hazardous cyclone season imminent, the $63 billion Ichthys LNG project is besieged by electrical faults that could ignite any gas that escapes.
The West Australian has obtained audits of the Ichthys Explorer platform and nearby Ichthys Venturer oil production vessel that reveal more than half the electrical equipment in hazardous areas did not pass independent safety checks.
Ichthys operator Inpex last year commissioned international engineering company Kentech to audit the vessels which draw gas from beneath the seabed 450km north of Broome and partially process it before piping it 900km to Darwin.
The platform audit said the work planned to fix the problems “do not, in their current form reduce the risk of a major accident event from the ignition of flammable gases by electrical equipment to as low as reasonably practical”.
A major accident event is industry parlance for an incident that could kill many people.
The oil vessel audit said the electrical equipment “introduced an unsatisfactory level of risk that is outside the tolerable levels acceptable at other comparable major hazard facilities”.
Inpex did not respond to The West’s questions on how it justified continued operation of the two facilities after receiving the audit reports.
An Inpex spokesman said safety was its number one value and it had a continuing, rigorous program to maintain the integrity of its electrical equipment.
Getting Ichthys up and running was crucial to Inpex.
Daniel Toleman, an analyst with oil and gas consultancy WoodMackenzie, said Ichthys accounted for about 70 per cent of Inpex’s value.
When industry safety regulator NOPSEMA “identified deficiencies in the suitability of electrical equipment in hazardous areas” in June last year, Inpex said it would not start production until final safety verifications were completed.
The subsea wells were opened on July 30 last year and gas flowed to the platform for the first time.
The 200-bed Ichthys Explorer platform is a 120,000-tonne floating giant moored to the seabed 250m below with 25,000 tonnes of chain.
Kentech inspected 747 of the platform’s 44,000 electrical fittings in hazardous areas and 54 per cent did not pass for a variety of major and minor issues.
The audit report said the number of devices to be fixed on the platform was unprecedented in the Australian LNG industry and concluded that the inspections in the shipyard were flawed.
It said the inspectors in the shipyards “clearly did not have an appreciation of the incredibly tough environmental conditions some of this equipment will be exposed to”.
“This raises concerns over the installed equipment’s ability to withstand multiple cyclone seasons and prevent water ingress,” the report said.
The audit report concluded that the strategy to fix the problems was not in line with industry best practice.
It said it was a “unique circumstance” that gas had been introduced to the platform when “known electrical non-compliances exist”.
Kentech said progress to fix the problems would be slower now that gas flowed through the platform and the work needed realistic timeframes and resources and well-trained personnel.
“An underlying culture of rushing to meet deadlines has compromised the quality and compliance of the electrical installation, and it is vital this mistake is not repeated during the future remedial works,” the report said.
The 336m-long Ichthys Venturer oil-production vessel had a far higher proportion of electrical faults than its sister facility. Of 6676 outdoor emergency lights and fittings observed by Kentech, 14 per cent had tape to keep water out applied correctly.
Kentech inspected 1110 electrical fittings on the 200-bed oil vessel in more detail and 41 per cent of the fittings were safe, 55 per cent were labelled increased risk, and 4 per cent were high risk.
A NOPSEMA spokesman said it inspected electrical equipment in hazardous areas on both facilities before gas flowed.
The platform was inspected again in September and will be inspected on January 29.
COUNTDOWN TO AUDITS THAT EXPOSED DANGERS
APRIL 2017: Ichthys Explorer platform sails from Korea.
JULY 2017: Ichthys Venturer oil vessel sails from Korea.
APRIL 2018: Concerns identified after Inpex check some electrical fittings.
MAY: A “1000 tag” survey of both facilities started.
JUNE 25: Two electricians electrocuted on platform.
JULY 30: Wells opened and gas flows to the platform “following the completion of final safety verifications including additional verifications concerning electrical equipment”.
LATE AUGUST AND EARLY SEPTEMBER: Independent audit of platform.
OCTOBER 1: First condensate from oil vessel exported.
OCTOBER 2: Audit report for platform issued.
OCTOBER 23: First LNG exported from Darwin.
NOVEMBER 16: Australian and Japanese prime ministers celebrate Ichthys project in Darwin.
NOVEMBER 27: Audit report for oil vessel issued.