Chevron has avoided a complete shutdown of its $US54 billion Gorgon LNG plant after WA safety regulator WorkSafe this week approved the staggered repair of propane vessels.

LNG Train 2 at the three-train plant has been shut down since May as workers grind out and repair faulty welds in eight propane filled heat exchangers, also called kettles.

Trains 1 and 3 with near-identical kettles have continued to operate, leading to union concerns about the safety of maintenance workers on nearby Train 2.

In early August two WA safety regulators within the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, WorkSafe and the Dangerous Goods Directorate, acted to ensure all 24 kettles were inspected and repaired.

Two weeks later the Dangerous Goods Directorate allowed Chevron to delay the Train 3 shutdown to early October and start work on Train 1 in January.

However, the US major had to wait another month until its plans were approved by WorkSafe this week.

A WorkSafe spokesperson said its 24 outstanding notices with Chevron now have to be complied with by various dates out to 30 April 2021.

The complexity arose because pressure vessels at Gorgon straddled the responsibility of two regulators that independently administer separate acts.

The Dangerous Goods Directorate covered Gorgon as it is classified as a major hazard facility.

WorkSafe generally does not cover mining and petroleum activities, but the problems at Gorgon came within its remit as pressure vessels were involved.

A new Work Health and Safety Bill that will supersede a variety of separate safety legislation and result in a single regulator is currently before Parliament.

Both regulators intend to keep a close eye on Gorgon.

A spokesperson for the Dangerous Goods Directorate said it remained in close contact with Chevron regarding all aspects of its work on Train 2 and pending inspection of Trains 1 and 3.

“The Gorgon plant remains subject to the department’s ongoing regulatory oversight.”

The completion of the Train 2 work was delayed after Chevron used the wrong weld procedure, requiring the work to be ground out and repeated. Chevron will want Train 2 back in operation before the agreed shutdown of Train 1 in early October.

The thousands of cracks found in the welds at Gorgon may have prompted a broader review of pressure vessels across WA.

“WorkSafe’s investigation is looking at the current safety of the pressure vessels and the implications for the safety of the plant,” the WorkSafe spokesperson said.

“WorkSafe is working closely with Chevron to ensure the site remains safe to operate,

“Aside from the current investigations, a proactive inspection program on high-risk pressure vessels is currently taking place, and Gorgon is included and will be visited as part of the project.”


Main image: Gorgon LNG plant on Barrow Island. Source: Chevron Australia Pty Ltd