By Aaron Clark and Stephen Stapczynski
Satellite images show the extent of damage in Papua New Guinea after a massive earthquake rocked the country’s remote highlands on Monday, leading Exxon Mobil Corp. to cease natural gas exports from the nation.
The magnitude 7.5 temblor, which has caused numerous landslides and aftershocks, destroyed about three-fourths of the Komo airport runway, near Exxon’s operations in Hides.
The country declared a state of emergency in areas hit by the disaster and Reuters has reported at least 31 people killed.
The images from DigitalGlobe Inc. show landslides that have blocked the Tagari river, which runs through the Southern Highlands province to the ocean, potentially adding a new threat to people and infrastructure downstream, should the river breach the earthen barrier.
“In this high rainfall setting, it is likely that these landslide dams will only last for weeks to months,” said Mark Quigley, an associate professor at the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne. “When the landslide dams are breached, this might cause a rapid surge in floodwaters downstream. The landslide dams should continue to be carefully monitored.”
Extensive areas were likely impacted by landslides in the Central Highlands over a distance of about 170 kilometers (105 miles) both northwest and southeast of the earthquake epicenter, according to Eric Fielding, a scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who cited data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Exxon has shut the Hides Gas Conditioning Plant and well pads in the highlands near the earthquakes epicenter, along with the PNG LNG liquefaction plant in Port Moresby. The LNG plant and a pipeline that runs about 700 kilometers to it from the conditioning plant weren’t damaged by the earthquake, the company said.
The company is still assessing damage at well pads and conditioning plant, which may be hampered by damage to roads and other infrastructure. It’s evacuated non-essential workers and helicoptered in specialist engineers.