Technical issues at three gas projects in Western Australia have forced them to either be shut in or produce at lower levels, leaving some industry forced to burn diesel although households have not been plunged into darkness.

US supermajor Chevron’s Wheatstone Domestic Gas Plant and Santos’ offshore John Brookes field are currently out of action, while the Australian operator’s Devil Creek gas plant is also producing at sub-par rates.

“An unplanned outage occurred at the [Wheatstone] plant during the evening of 5 January, caused by equipment failure,” a Chevron Australia spokesperson confirmed to Upstream.

“There were no safety impacts and LNG production is unaffected.”

The spokesperson added that Chevron is continuing restart activities at Wheatstone, which is expected to resume production in the coming days.

“We are continuing to work with our customers, the regulator and the broader market, to meet demand, including {keeping] Gorgon’s 300 terajoule [per day] domestic gas plant running, [which is] at full capacity.”

Wheatstone was expected to restart on Sunday but this was delayed by at least a further two days owing to technical problems by the operator, the Western Australia government said.

“The incident follows reduced supply from the Santos-operated John Brookes facility at Varanus Island and Devil Creek facility after recent interruptions,” the WA state government added.

In late November, Santos was forced to shut down its John Brookes offshore field after a gas leak was discovered in the subsea export pipeline. At the time, the operator said that repair work and the return to full production would take up to six weeks.

The platform and pipeline were immediately shut down and depressurised when the leak was detected, and all personnel were demobilised.

The affected pipeline carries gas from the John Brookes field to the Varanus Island onshore gas processing facilities, and from there gas is distributed to the domestic market. WAtoday reported Australia’s offshore safety regulator, Nopsema, as having forbidden Santos from restarting production at John Brookes until the operator can demonstrate that more leaks are unlikely.

A Santos spokesperson told Upstream the company had no current update on John Brookes, and simply referred back to the late November statement.

John Brookes is one of several fields operated by Santos that feed gas into the Varanus Island facility, which has a capacity of 390 terajoules per day of gas.

Gross output through Varanus Island in 2021 was 273 TJ per day but it is not known what percentage came from John Brookes.

According to the WA gas bulletin board (GBB) run by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), output capacity is significantly curtailed at Varanus Island — at about 40 TJ per day versus the usual maximum supply of 250 TJ per day.

Meanwhile, Santos’ Devil Creek gas plant near Karratha also experienced technical issues on Thursday last week. Production from Devil Creek is expected to be 40 TJ per day until late January — down from 180 TJ a week ago, the GBB claimed.

The AEMO further noted that Wheatstone’s capacity was expected to come back in operation at an initial 40 TJ per day before being quickly ramped up to 100 TJ, then 205 TJ and finally 215 TJ per day.

WA Mines & Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston said: “It’s very unusual that there’s multiple commercial facilities out at the same time but it does show the robustness of Western Australia’s energy system that we can have three major incidents in the gas supply system and still maintain sufficient supply for Western Australia’s energy needs.”

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