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U.S. energy regulators questioned on oversight of Freeport, Texas, LNG plant

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U.S. energy regulators questioned on oversight of Freeport, Texas, LNG plant © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Model of LNG tanker is seen in front of the U.S. flag in this illustration taken May 19, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

By Arathy Somasekhar

FREEPORT, Texas (Reuters) – U.S. energy regulators on Saturday assured Texas residents they are monitoring repairs and the eventual restart of the fire-idled Freeport LNG plant as a vessel this week began taking the first fuel out of its storage tanks in eight months.

The second-largest U.S. liquefied (LNG) export facility was knocked offline by a fiery blast last June and operations halted while regulators conduct an extensive safety review of operations and staffing.

When fully operational, Freeport LNG processes about 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas and exports up to 15 million tonnes of LNG per year. Its progress toward resuming operations is closely watched because of the impact on U.S. natural gas prices.

Linda Daugherty, deputy associate administrator at the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), told about 100 people the regulator has not completed its review of the incident.

PHMSA, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Coast Guard are responsible for approving repair and restart plans. Officials of the three federal agencies met with residents who sought details of the ongoing overhaul.

The blast resulted from inadequate operating and testing procedures, operator fatigue and other shortcomings, a review by an outside firm found. About 10,000 pounds of methane were released, said a PHMSA representative. Methane is the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas.

Freeport LNG was invited to send a representative to Saturday’s meeting, PHMSA said. There was no response to a request for someone from the company to come forward.

The LNG producer has completed all repairs and is working to restart the facility safely once regulators approve its plans, a spokesperson previously has said.

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