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Former Environmental Chief, ExxonMobil differ on legality of flaring

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 February 2021, 21:51 by Denis Chabrol

Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency , Dr. Vincent Adams.

Former Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr. Vincent Adams and ExxonMobil were Wednesday at odds over the legality of the flaring of gas due to  a malfunctioned gas compressor that has since been flown to Germany for repairs.

Dr. Adams said government should have ordered ExxonMobil to shut down its operations until the gas compressor is fixed, because the company is allowed to flare one billion cubic feet from the pilot facility during normal operations. “You can stop them from producing like what I did… To be honest, if I were there, they would have had to shut down  production, period, and that’s the only thing that can drive them to fix this problem once and for all,” he said. He questioned why these problems were occurring in Guyana especially given the vast experience by the company.

For its part, ExxonMobil noted in a brief update that, “The permit prohibits routine flaring but specifies that flaring related to FPSO start-up, emergencies/process events, or maintenance activities are not considered routine.”

Dr. Adams said there was nothing in the Environmental Impact Assessment to allow the flaring of 14 billion cubic feet of natural gas into the atmosphere, because the Floating, Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel, Liza Destiny, had encountered gas compressor problems before. He recalled that ExxonMobil, during his tenure as EPA Chief, had been required to reduce production to 30,000 barrels per day to keep production at a minimum for safe operations during the first gas compressor problems.

“The government should make sure that they do not continue to violate this permit so blatantly,” he said.

Dr. Adams, who stated that his views on the issue were not politically tainted, told the AFC press conference that ExxonMobil needed to comply with Guyana’s laws, but the company stopped short of openly rebutting him while at the same time stating that the laws were not being violated. “ExxonMobil Guyana complies with the conditions of the Liza Phase One environmental permit which was issued by the EPA as we do all other laws and regulations related to our operations,” the company said.

The former EPA boss also flayed ExxonMobil for not having spares aboard the FPSO, causing the company to point out that it usually has those stocks, including seals, and that plans were made to purchase a new compressor to have it on standby. “We do keep spare equipment in Guyana to support maintenance activities, including the seals for the flash gas compressor which had failed at the end of last month and spare rotors. However, our initial examination determined that the necessary repairs required equipment and expertise at the manufacturer’s workshop in Germany. Last year, we ordered a new spare flash gas compressor, but it will not be available until later this year due to the complex nature of the equipment,” the operator on the Stabroek Block said.

He called for an immediate investigation rather than awaiting the operation of 10 FPSOs and “we can’t pull this thing back.”

Dr. Adams and ExxonMobil also differed on the peak capacity, with him claiming that the company exceeded the 120,000 barrels per day capacity by an additional 10,000 barrels. He said the EIA states that the safe operating limit is 120,000 barrels per day. “It exceeded the safety envelope of course and did it have anything to with the safety of seal,” he said.

But ExxonMobil said the gas compressor’s German manufacturer, MAN Energy, has confirmed there is no linkage between the production optimization activities and the technical issues with the flash gas compressor.  At the time of the incident with the compressor, it was only operating at ~70% of its design capacity.   Production optimization is a normal process for operations around the world. A comprehensive safety evaluation took place prior to the optimization process,” the company said.

ExxonMobil’s experts have already stated that Liza Destiny’s liquid capacity is 158,000 barrels per day which allows the extraction of more oil and less water at this stage but will eventually pump more water than oil as the well is depleted.