Only last week Shell chief executive Ben van Buerden told analysts the Prelude was evidence of how new assets would improve the gas giant's cash flow in 2020.
"Once we reach steady-state operations, we expect one carrier a week to offload LNG, LPG or condensate," he said.
A week later achieving consistent nameplate output from perhaps the most complex offshore facility ever built looks some time off.
Prelude has had consistent problems with its steam-driven power generation facility and on Sunday experienced another electrical trip. This time the backup diesel generators failed to power up which "impacted certain amenities onboard" according to a Shell spokesperson.
This impact included the toilets. Temporary toilets were assembled on every level of the Prelude's living quarters and instructions issued to crew: "People are to defecate into cardboard bedpans and place the pan in a plastic bag and seal it securely." Crew with lesser needs were allowed to continue to urinate in "toilets that are not full."
Otherwise, bottles and buckets were recommended.
Tuesday's crew newsletter seen by Energy News that detailed the new sanitary arrangements also advised of the arrival of five helicopters that morning to take crew off to reduce the total number of people on board.
Shell use Sikorsky S-92 helicopters from CHC Helicopter to service the Prelude, each with the ability to ferry 19 passengers. It is understood that 70 crew were taken off.
The Shell spokesperson said production had been suspended and work was underway to restore full operations and the issues with crew amenities were being resolved.
"We have made the proactive decision to temporarily reduce the number of people on board," he said.
It is understood that power from the diesel backup generators had returned before the crew departed, but the flights went ahead, in part due to concerns that developing cyclonic conditions could impede helicopter traffic in coming days.
The Bureau of Meteorology's outlook is that there is a high chance of a cyclone developing west of the Kimberley by Thursday.
"Shell will not compromise on the safety of its people, which remains our utmost priority," the spokesman said.
Prelude's problems have also been displayed this morning on the Facebook site of the union group Offshore Alliance in a blow to Shell's PR efforts pushing its showcase asset.
The Shell spokesman said these recent events were unrelated to a National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority review of isolation processes currently underway.
The safety regulator on January 22 directed Shell to stop any maintenance activity that posed a risk to health or safety from the release of hydrocarbons until it had fixed safety management systems for the safe isolation of equipment.
NOPSEMA concluded that the relevant safety practices had degraded over the past two years. Concerns included controlling the venting of hydrocarbons, and the basic practise of tagging equipment to be worked on.
Shell notified NOPSEMA of Sunday's shutdown the next day, according to the regulator's spokesperson.
He said the problems triggered activation of Prelude's emergency response plan that included mustering the workforce and shutting down production as a precaution.
Energy News understands the crew were mustered nine times in 24 hours.
"NOPSEMA is investigating these matters and inspectors have been in regular contact with Shell following notification," the NOPSEMA spokesperson said.
The conditions for the Prelude crew on Sunday were in stark contrast to that enjoyed by Shell boss van Buerden less than two weeks before: dining with other global chief executives and President Trump at Davos during the World Economic Forum.
The Prelude's ramp up has helped improve what was otherwise a spotty quarter for Shell, in line with most of its peers, and also helped push Australia's LNG exports to the world number one spot at the end of 2019, at 77.5 million tonnes per annum.
A source speaking to Reuters yesterday suggested a halt to production would have no very great impact given both historically low spot prices and the Coronavirus dampening demand.