Forced shutdown of tank at Louisiana LNG facility


HMN-A crack in an internal wall has prompted the shutdown of two storage tanks at a Louisiana LNG facility. The American Press reports that the breach exposed the outer wall of the tank to conditions well below it’s designed capacity.

Federal regulators have ordered Sabine Pass LNG to shut down two of its storage tanks and take corrective action after a gas leak at one of the tanks last month — the latest in a series of similar incidents, according to the order, issued Thursday by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

On Jan. 22, the order said, liquefied natural gas at a temperature of around 260 degrees below zero was released into the space between the inner and outer walls of a major storage tank, exposing the outer wall to temperatures well below its designed capacity and resulting in four distinct cracks that allowed some gas to escape.

On discovering the leak, it said, employees began emptying the tank, roped off the surrounding area to “limit potential ignition sources,” and blocked off a nearby road. The company reported no injuries or explosions, and other plant operations continued as normal.

During its investigation, regulators learned of “11 past upsets” at the same tank dating from 2008 to 2016 in which LNG splashed over the top of the inner tank into the outer area — a “geyser-type effect,” it said.

Similar instances of LNG getting between the inner and outer walls occurred at two other tanks — all three fabricated by the same company, the order said. The facility has five LNG storage tanks: three fabricated by Matrix Service Inc. and two by Zachry Industrial Inc.

The order described LNG leaks as “low-frequency, highconsequences events” that “can result in a serious hazard to people and property.”

Federal regulators made the decision to issue the corrective action order without notice or opportunity for hearing after taking into account potential impacts on the 500 onsite workers; the threat to major highways and waterways; the “hazardous nature” of LNG; the unpredictability of ignition sources; and the facility’s history of similar issues since first opening as an import terminal in 2008.

The order called for two of the tanks to be removed from service and for the company to conduct an internal review of all its tanks. It notes that regulators might tag on other corrective measures as the investigation continues.

Company spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder said Cheniere notified state police, the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center, the Cameron Parish Office of Environmental Protection, and the Federal Energy Regulatory commission within hours of the leak.

He said production at the plant, operating as an export terminal since 2016, would not be affected by the tank closures, since the other three tanks can pick up the slack. He said the two tanks have been fully removed from service as required.

“Safety is Cheniere’s number one priority, and we want to stress that there was and is no immediate danger to our community, workforce, or our facility from this incident, nor is there any impact on LNG production,” Burnham-Snyder said, adding that Cheniere is investigating the leak and working with experts on a repair plan.

From its initial investigation, he said, Cheniere believes that last month’s freezing weather caused a bottom fill valve — out of service since August 2016 — to open, allowing LNG into the bottom of the outer tank and resulting in the cracks.

“We know we have an event to investigate, but we’re very happy that everybody was safe, the safety procedures were followed and the safety mechanisms worked,” Burnham-Snyder said.

Sierra Club attorney Nathan Matthews, in a statement released Friday, called the incident “a reminder that the expansion of LNG projects poses a grave threat to our communities and our climate.”

“It’s a relief that no one was hurt, but allowing the facility to continue to operate until it’s clear how widespread these issues are would be extremely reckless,” Matthews said.

Sabine Pass in Cameron Parish is the only operating LNG exporter in the contiguous U.S. Another LNG project, Cameron LNG, is underway in Hackberry, and eight others are proposed for Southwest Louisiana.

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