Papua New Guinea earthquake struck early Monday morning, causing landslides, damaging buildings and closing oil and LNG operations in the southwestern Pacific country.  Storyful photo by Baundo Mereh.

Papua New Guinea earthquake shuts down Exxon Hides gas conditioning plant, non-essential staff evacuated

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit the southwestern Pacific country of Papua New Guinea early Monday morning.  There are no casualties reported at this time, but the Papua New Guinea earthquake caused landslides, damaged buildings and forced the closure of some oil and LNG operations.

According to the US Geological Survey, the tremor was centred in the Southern Highlands area, located about 560 Km northwest of the capital of Port Moresby at about 3:45 a.m. local time on Monday.

While the affected area is remote, the International Red Cross in Papua New Guinea says some reports indicate there are “fears of human casualties”.  Communication to the are has been impacted by the earthquake.

“The Papua New Guinea Defense Force has also been mobilized to assist with the assessment and the delivery of assistance to affected people as well as the restoration of services and infrastructure,” Reuters reports Isaac Lupari, the chief secretary to the government, said in a statement after the PNG quake.

ExxonMobil has shuttered its Hides gas conditioning plant and the company believes its administration buildings, living quarters and a mess hall due were damaged in the tremor.  Flights in and out of the nearby Komo airfield have also been suspended until the condition of the runway could be evaluated.

“Due to the damage to the Hides camp quarters and continuing aftershocks, ExxonMobil PNG is putting plans in place to evacuate non-essential staff,” the company said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Oil Search, a PNG oil and gas explorer said in a statement that it has shut down its production in the impacted area.

At least 13 aftershocks with a magnitude of 5.0 or more have since rattled the region, and USGS data shows another quake with the magnitude of 6.4 hit an area 142 Km from the city of Mount Hagen at about a depth of 10 Km.

Earthquakes are common in the area, as it sits on the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire”, known for seismic activity caused by friction between tectonic plates.