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A tanker loads liquefied natural gas in mid-2017 at Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass LNG export facility in Cameron Parish. 

A federal hazardous materials regulator has proposed a $80,100 fine against Cheniere Energy Inc. over a two-hour-long tank fire at its Sabine Pass LNG complex in Cameron Parish more than two years ago.

According to a federal notice, workers had failed to block off a vent for one of the giant cryogenic tanks holding the super-cooled, liquefied natural gas and allowed the flammable gas to escape a tank during maintenance in April 2018.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a notice of probable violation and proposed civil penalty in a letter dated late last month.

The fire is one of at least three incidents since January 2018 to draw regulators' eyes to the LNG export complex on the banks of the Sabine Pass across from Port Arthur, Texas.

The latest known fire happened Oct. 11 inside one of the plant's thermal oxidizers. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently sent Cheniere a letter asking questions about that fire.

Saying the notice on the April 2018 incident is part of PHMSA's "closeout," Cheniere Energy officials said Monday they do not plan to contest the fine but will resolve it expeditiously.

"At the time of this incident — a fire which resulted in no injuries — we immediately reported it to the proper regulatory agencies, and cooperated with those agencies to investigate the incident and fix the problem," a company statement added.

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The fire did cause visible damage to cables, power outlets and lights on the tank, PHMSA said.

PHMSA regulators found Cheniere contract workers failed to follow the company's own procedures when they didn't block off the vent to tank S-102, one of five at the complex. 

At the time, the workers were refilling the cryogenic tanks with perlite, a natural volcanic glass used to insulate things that must be kept extremely cold. LNG is stored at minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit to be kept in a condensed, liquid state.  

Cheniere's LNG storage tanks are really one tank inside of another, with the inner tank having the type of material able to handle the cold LNG. At the time of the April 2018 fire, the perlite insulation was being filled in the space between the two tanks.

PHMSA also found the contract workers refilling the tank with perlite didn't have demonstrated capability to ensure the block on the tank vent was in place. PHMSA said it also wasn't clear if Cheniere workers who did know that procedure were on hand for the April 2018 job. 

The April 2018 fire came just months after two other cryogenic tanks at the complex were found to have cracks leaking LNG after LNG had spilled out of the inner tanks and touched the outer tank, which is not able to deal with the low temperatures of LNG.


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.