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Australia regulator finds safety problems on Inpex offshore gas platform

MELBOURNE, (Reuters) - An Australian regulator said it had found some safety problems on the offshore gas platform for Japanese firm Inpex Corp's Ichthys LNG project off northern Australia and was considering enforcement action.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) found "defiencies in the suitability of electrical equipment in hazardous areas" during a four-day inspection of the Ichthys Explorer platform in late June, a spokeswoman said in emailed comments.

Inpex had hoped to start producing gas from the long delayed $40 billion project in June, but the company's new chief executive, Takayuki Ueda, told Reuters last week the company still had to address "various minor issues".

"Inpex has informed NOPSEMA that it has delayed introducing hydrocarbons to the platform to address the identified deficiencies," the NOPSEMA spokeswoman said.

An Inpex spokeswoman declined to comment on the specific technical issues. During final safety checks required before start-up some minor areas for improvement were identified, but they posed "no major challenges", she said.

"We are firmly committed to the safety of our workers above all else and will only commence production from the wellhead when we are satisfied that final safety verifications are completed," the spokeswoman said.

Ichthys will send gas from the offshore central processing facility through an 890-km (550-mile) pipeline to the mainland near the city of Darwin, where it will be chilled into liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export.

NOPSEMA said its inspection has yet to be formally concluded so it could not provide any further details.

Enforcement steps available to the regulator range from issuing improvement notices or prohibition notices regarding a specific activity up to civil and criminal prosecutions for major breaches, according to its web site (https://www.nopsema.gov.au/assets/Policies/A15756.pdf).

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; additional reporting by Osamu Tsukimori in TOKYO; editing by Richard Pullin)


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