Equinor is facing a further technical headache on its troubled Martin Linge field development off Norway after a safety audit uncovered issues with ignition source control on the field platform.

The latest issue adds to well integrity problems, an expected huge costs hike and a delay in start-up at the beleaguered scheme.

The new technical issue follws a recent inspection carried out by the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) that revealed regulatory non-conformities related to ignition sources and electrical installations, as well as with control room interfaces for operators, routines for transfer of information at shift changes and maintenance of safety-critical equipment.

The audit of the Martin Linge A platform was intended to verify regulatory compliance for ignition source control and to ensure adequate safety barriers were in place ahead of planned drilling work that could result in the facility being exposed to a possible gas leak in the wellbore.

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However, the watchdog stated in its audit report that there were failings with the technical condition of equipment such as lighting related to ignition sources, with some electrically charged equipment left exposed in naturally ventilated areas that may not be turned off in the event of gas exposure.

In addition, the PSA found data displays for the control and monitoring system in the platform’s control room failed to properly present start-and-stop functions for the operator, such that safety could be compromised.

There were also found to be poor routines for handover to new personnel of information related to failures in the safety system at shift changes in the control room as well as a lack of follow-up for maintenance of safety-critical equipment.

Technical woes

Further improvement points were identified related to areas such as mapping and control of ignition sources.

Equinor has been given a deadline of 4 November to provide feedback to the agency on how these issues will be tackled.

Technical woes and costs are mounting on the troubled North Sea field project after it was taken over by the state-controlled operator from Total in a $1.45 billion deal in 2018 that also included the Garantiana discovery.

Equinor also is grappling with well integrity issues and extensive work required on topsides piping on the integrated wellhead, production and accommodation platform built at South Korea’s Samsung Heavy Industries.

Start-up of the field, which was originally due to be brought online in the fourth quarter of 2016, is now set to be further delayed to the second or third quarter of 2021.

Project costs have ballooned to Nkr56 billion ($6 billion), which is an 85% hike on Equinor’s earlier reported figure of Nkr30.4 billion after taking over the project.

Sources have told Upstream the project will now have a cost overrun of more than 100%, with a revised estimate set to be revealed in Norway’s proposed national budget to be made public on 7 October.