By Nora Buli
OSLO, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Norway's Hammerfest LNG plant faces a further delay before restarting production following a fire in 2020, Equinor EQNR.OL and Norwegian gas system manager Gassco said on Monday.
The plant, operated by Equinor, is now expected to resume output on May 17, more than six weeks later than the previous goal of restarting on March 31.
"We work systematically to deliver on the plan we established, but challenges related to COVID-19 restrictions require that we need more time to prepare the plant for safe and stable start-up and operations," Equinor senior vice president Grete Haaland said in a statement.
Europe's only large-scale LNG plant, at Melkoeya island just outside the Arctic town of Hammerfest, can process 18 million cubic metres (mcm) of gas per day when fully operational.
The plant has been out of service since September 2020 following a blaze that raised concerns over safety practices.
At Melkoeya, gas is piped in from the offshore Snoehvit field, 160km (100 miles) away in the Barents Sea. The field was forced to shut as a result of the plant's closure.
Extensive work had been carried out since the fire, including checking more than 22,000 components and replacing 180 km (113 miles) of electrical cables, Equinor said.
"The latest wave of (coronavirus) infections, combined with restrictions and narrow working areas, impacts the progress. At times, half of staff have been in quarantine and isolation," Hammerfest LNG plant manager Thor Johan Haave said.
He said the project was now near completion.
(Reporting by Nora Buli; Editing by Terje Solsvik, Louise Heavens and Edmund Blair)
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