Norway's Equinor has launched an internal investigation into the recent fire at its Hammerfest liquefied natural gas plant on the island of Melkoya, while looking to address the “serious and frightening” concerns raised by the country's safety watchdog over the incident.

The fire on 28 September came as the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) was carrying out an audit of the plant after finding numerous issues last year.

No personnel were injured in the Monday morning incident, and the fire was put out by emergency responders later that night.

However, the safety authority said, under the circumstances, it is looking to investigate the “extremely serious” and “frightening” fire.

Fire was 'dramatic'

Equinor’s executive vice president of marketing, midstream and processing Irene Rummelhoff said on Friday: “The incident at Hammerfest LNG this week was serious... We are glad that no one was injured in the fire or in fighting it”.

“The fire was dramatic, especially for employees, suppliers and neighbors in Hammerfest," she added.

"We are following up everyone who works at Hammerfest LNG with information about the incident and how we handle it further. This work includes town halls and meetings at unit level.

“We have had meetings with local politicians and the local community in Hammerfest to inform and answer questions, and we will continue to engage with the local community in the coming weeks.”

Looking for ‘triggering and underlying causes’

Both the PSA and Equinor are investigating the incident to clarify the course of events and to find “triggering and underlying causes”. The police are also investigating the incident, Equinor said.

Befiore the fire, the state-owned company had already started an investigation of a gas leak that occurred around two weeks ago.

“Although there is no indication of a connection, Equinor will also investigate if the fire can in any way be related to the leak,” the company said.

In addition, the ongoing investigation will seek to clarify if the power outage in Hammerfest on 28 September was related to the fire.

The Equinor and PSA investigations "will be important in identifying measures that will prevent similar incidents from happening again," Rummelhoff said.

"We will support the investigation and the police investigation where there is a need for it.”

Plant start-up in ‘due course’

Following the blast, Hammerfest LNG was shut down in accordance with emergency routines.

Equinor said it has now established a separate project that will assess the condition of the plant and take measures to ensure a safe start-up in due course.

“We are now working to map the extent of damages after the fire and will then thoroughly review the technical integrity of the facility. Safety comes first, and we will use the time we need to ensure a safe start-up. It is still too early to say when the operations can resume," Rummelhoff said.

In the week before the incident, the PSA carried out an inspection of electric systems and major accident preparedness at the facility.

On Thursday, 24 September the PSA verbally informed Equinor of early findings. The safety watchdog said they had observed that some items had not been satisfactorily followed up by Equinor since the same type of audit was last carried out in 2017.

“Equinor takes the PSA’s feedback seriously and has already started examining the basis for the findings to address pending items while we wait for the PSA’s final report from the inspection. We will also evaluate whether the findings are isolated cases or if there is a need to address routines and systems,” Rummelhoff said.