HACKBERRY — Thursday's dedication ceremony at the Cameron LNG facility brought not just state leaders like Gov. John Bel Edwards to the small southwestern Louisiana community, but also business and government leaders from Japan and France.

Guests included Shinsuke Sugiyama, Japan's ambassador to the U.S., a Cameron LNG news release said.

While the facility's first production structures — called trains — were brought online May 14 and the other two will not be up and running until the end of the first and second quarters of 2020, respectively, the first train is already shipping out its product on tankers like the Marvel Heron, which holds 175,000 cubic meters of liquefied natural gas.

Edwards touted Louisiana's status among states for foreign direct investment, saying Louisiana has become such a great place for foreign investment not just because of its natural and manmade resources, but also because of the diverse and welcoming culture that has been cultivated over its history.

"Louisiana truly is the LNG capital of the United States and Cameron LNG has played a huge role in that success," Edwards said. "LNG plants are coming online across south Louisiana from Plaquemines Parish to Port Fourchon to Cameron and Calcasieu."

The Hackberry facility has been in the works for over a decade and has employed over 11,000 construction workers and will permanently employ about 250 full-time employees. When fully operational, the facility should produce 15 million tons of liquefied natural gas a year.

"It's a great honor and privilege to stand at this podium and represent the entire Cameron LNG family. To celebrate the achievements of thousands of men and women who have worked tirelessly and passionately over many years so that we can connect American energy with all corners of the world," Cameron LNG CEO Farhad Ahrabi said.

LNG is natural gas that has been condensed to a liquid state at minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit. Its reduced volume makes it easier to transport. According to the Department of Energy, the U.S. exports LNG to 35 countries on five continents. Some of the notable companies using energy from the Cameron LNG facility to power their nations are in Japan and France.

Japan began to move away from nuclear energy following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011 and started diversifying its energy needs in renewable energy and more heavily importing natural gas. This year marks the 50th anniversary of when Japan first started importing natural gas from America.

Three major Japanese companies -- Mitsubishi, Mitsui & Co. and NYK -- joined French company TOTAL and American company Sempra Energy in creating Cameron LNG and in financing and building the $10 billion facility.

"This is one of the most important building projects we have. This project will complete our diversification and cost competitiveness of our energy portfolio. The energy market is under fierce competition... We wanted these trains completed as soon as possible to establish a stable and safe supply," said Motoyasu Nozaki, COO of energy business unit II for Mitsui & Co.

Federal inspectors visited the Hackberry LNG facility May 20 and issued a notice of a violation and possible civil penalty in late July.

Companies are required to notify the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration if there are any incidents no more than one hour after it is discovered.

Cameron LNG released some LNG from a flanged joint connection during startup operations in May but also before it began operations in January.

In January, Cameron LNG operators noticed there was an intermittent LNG leak from pipes in the plant, the agency said. Again on May 15, employees saw LNG dripping near an isolation valve of unit 1. It was not immediately clear how much LNG was released since the documentation was not filed.

Ahrabi said the company thought the leaks were too minor and did not report them. However, he said the issues that caused the leaks have been remedied and the facility would follow any laws and report any leaks.

Email Dan Boudreaux at dboudreaux@theadvocate.com.