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Mystery Incident at Pluto LNG Facility Triggers High-Stakes Investigation
Mystery Incident at Pluto LNG Facility Triggers High-Stakes Investigation

Mystery Incident at Pluto LNG Facility Triggers High-Stakes Investigation

  • 29-May-2023 2:28 PM
  • Journalist: Patrick Knight

Australia: Australia's Woodside Energy is currently investigating an incident at its Pluto Liquefied Natural Gas plant that occurred during planned maintenance on Friday at 23:30 local time. The operator refers to the release of gas from the flare tower as an "audible release", while unions have described it as an explosion. All personnel at the site were evacuated, and fortunately, no injuries or fatalities were reported. Residents located approximately five miles away could hear the noise from the incident, as well as the emergency siren that followed. Personnel on site were mustered, and all personnel have been accounted for. Woodside Energy is currently investigating the cause of the incident. Despite this, operations at Karratha Gas Plant (KGP) remain unaffected and continue as usual.

The flare line was being shut down for the tie-in of Pluto Train 2 when an explosion occurred on Friday night. Contrary to what employees and contractors were told, it was not just an "audible release." Woodside is fortunate that no one was killed or seriously injured during the incident, which caused the ground to shake and surrounding crib huts to be affected. Woodside was aware of potential issues on Friday morning and delayed the start time of the day shift by two hours due to an impending black start. It appears that the air assist flares were not working, resulting in gas flowing back through the line and catching fire. The explosion caused significant damage to the flare blowers, destroyed the pipework leading to the bottom of the tower, and split the outer skirt of the flare.

Upstream has reached out to Woodside for a comment regarding the recent incident and the union's claims. If you happen to be in the city of Karratha today, you might observe some unusual dark smoke and flaring coming from our Pluto LNG facility. While we strive to minimise flaring, it is an indispensable component for ensuring safety during the operation of a gas plant and especially during certain maintenance activities. On Thursday, Woodside had informed via social media of its scheduled maintenance at the Pluto LNG Plant in the next few weeks. This maintenance work is expected to result in increased flaring, which could produce dark smoke. Flaring is mandatory for the secure functioning of a gas plant and is necessary during specific maintenance activities. Woodside constantly monitors and endeavours to reduce flaring as part of its regular operations.

Woodside, the operator of Pluto LNG Plant, has emphasized on the importance of safe and reliable operations. However, an incident was reported the following day where an explosion occurred in the Pluto flare tower, which Woodside labelled as an audible release. Australian Workers' Union expressed their relief that no one was seriously injured but condemned Woodside for downplaying the explosion. Workers at the plant were reportedly given part pay on Saturday and asked to take Sunday off. The union has demanded transparency from Woodside regarding the cause of the explosion and criticized them for standing down workers on pay. This incident has raised concerns over the safety measures at the plant and the treatment of workers by the operators.

Pluto LNG is utilizing gas extracted from the Pluto and Xena gas fields, situated offshore Western Australia. The gas is transported through a 180-kilometre trunkline to an onshore processing train, from where it is conveyed to the Karratha Gas Plant (KGP) for additional processing. The construction of the Pluto Train 2 expansion was initiated by Woodside and US contractor Bechtel in August last year. The collaboration between the Australian Workers' Union and the Maritime Union of Australia.

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