'Severe Damage' Could Further Delay Freeport Restart

Read on Energy Intelligence

Taking stock of the newly released assessment, Gary Kruse, managing director of research at Washington DC-based consultancy Arbo, said the January restart timeline he outlined last week is “still doable,” but that depends on the work Freeport has been able to accomplish to date.

A root cause failure analysis commissioned by Freeport LNG and released publicly this week has shed new light on the scale of destruction to Texas Gulf Coast facility, adding more uncertainty to when it can restart operations.

The report by IFO Group, dated Oct. 30, concluded that an isolated piping segment ruptured Jun. 8 after the LNG within it warmed and expanded because of exposure to ambient conditions. Employee fatigue and training issue contributed to the disaster, the report found. In the weeks leading up to the incident, 97% of staff worked in excess of their scheduled hours, with 20% of staff working in excess of 130% of their scheduled hours.

Two days before the incident, one of Freeport's operators noticed a pipe at the facility "had noticeably moved" and alerted supervisors. Although an engineer was sent to investigate, "no one at the site recognized the cause of the unusual pipe movement as thermal expansion resulting in increased pipe pressure applying forces to the expansion joints and other components of [the] line ... and events continued unabated until the [rupture], "the report said.

“This initial piping failure and explosion, together with the subsequent displacement of and damage to other process piping, instrumentation, wiring and pipe rack structures, caused severe damage to additional process equipment and associated piping in adjacent areas within and near the pipe rack.”

Freeport has repeatedly delayed a restart of its facility, originally set for October, confining 15 million tons per year (2.1 Bcf/d) of US gas to the domestic market.

Taking stock of the newly released assessment, Gary Kruse, managing director of research at Washington DC-based consultancy Arbo, said the January restart timeline he outlined last week is “still doable,” but that depends on the work Freeport has been able to accomplish to date.

“The question to me is what have they done about that,” he told Energy Intelligence on Wednesday. He noted that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Freeport likely had access to the report before they met Nov. 3. FERC is one of the agencies that must approve the facility's restart, along with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

“If you go and look at the ... readout from FERC, they’re talking about ongoing damage assessments being done. And my concern is if they waited to get this report on Oct. 30 to begin preparing or undertaking major repair assessments that are described in this report, I don’t know that January is doable,” he said. “You’d have to propose the work to FERC. You’d have to get FERC and PHMSA’s approval of it. And then you’d actually have to do it. I was always worried about collateral damage, but the report seems to say it was substantial.”

The report noted that assessments of vacuum insulated pipe (VIP) that may have been damaged in the blast must rely on “advanced inspection methods. ... The same applies to all non-VIP lines but additional inspection methods may be utilized to determine the full current condition of the pipe and its welds, beyond leak tightness via a hydrostatic test.”

“That to me means ... a more limited set of people that can do that type of inspection, and probably a longer timeframe to do that inspection and get the reports back those experts in order to tell FERC and PHMSA that none of these ... systems were impacted,” Kruse said. “That would be the best case, that the report comes back and says ‘yeah, they’re all fine.’ But what if the report comes back and says you have to replace 1,000 feet of pipe?”

A Freeport spokesperson said Wednesday that the company is "continuing to progress our work toward the safe restart of our liquefaction facility. That work includes obtaining the necessary regulatory approvals required for the restart. Freeport LNG is not commenting on the continued market speculation about our facility’s restart and we do not comment on our commercial activity or our customers’ cargoes."

Recent Articles

August 3, 2021

DC Circuit faults FERC's environmental analysis in two LNG project orders

June 1, 2022

Arbo Welcomes Forge Interns for Data Science, Digital Marketing, and Software Engineering

November 4, 2022

Will Permitting Reform Go Forward in December?