Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Montara oil spill Inquiry finalised: time for the Minister to get serious about “shonky” company and wider industry reforms

Friday, 25 February 2011


Montara oil spill Inquiry finalised: time for the Minister to get serious about “shonky” company and wider industry reforms

Today marks the deadline for final submissions and comments on the Report of the Montara Commission of Inquiry, released by the Minister for Resources and Energy late last year.

The oil spill in August 2009 took 10 weeks to cap and covered an estimated 90,000km². It is Australia’s worst oil spill of its kind, with reports that 318,000 litres of oil was released into the Timor Sea each day.

Although the full effects of the environmental damage are unlikely to ever be known, a number of threatened species such as turtles and whales are known to have been in the area.

The Commission’s Report condemns PTTEPAA for failing in the most basic of sensible oilfield practice.

“When we flew over the oil slick it was like a scene from a disaster movie: oil from horizon to horizon as far as the eye could see,” Environs Kimberley Director Martin Pritchard said.

“It was a devastating scene because we knew the area is a marine superhighway and we now have evidence of spinner dolphins, sooty terns, sea snakes, and threatened hawksbill and flatback turtles swimming in the oil slick. A dead whale was also spotted by Queensland Government scientist Dr Mike Short,” said Mr Pritchard.

The language of the Commission’s Report is remarkably frank: the Montara operation is described as an “accident waiting to happen” and PTTEPAA is lambasted for not coming “within a bull’s roar of sensible oilfield practice[1], for a “manifestly inadequate[2]” understanding of safety protocols by its workers, and for its recalcitrant attitude towards the Inquiry itself.

“It’s a major concern to us that this company got away without penalty after polluting the pristine waters off the Kimberley coast; but what’s worse is that the Minister Martin Ferguson approved two more offshore oilfields and five exploration licences for PTTEPAA during the oil spill crisis.”

“However, even the Minister was moved to acknowledge “widespread and systemic shortcomings” in PTTEPAA’s procedures when he tabled the damming Inquiry Report,” Environs Kimberley Director Martin Pritchard noted today.

Notwithstanding this, last month the Minister gave the green light to the company to continue their operations.

“It’s outrageous that a company whose “egregious failure” to concern itself with the circumstances of causes of the Blowout resulted “on numerous occasions, giving false and misleading information to various officials[3]” has been given the go-ahead to resume work,” Mr Pritchard said.

“As the report notes, the expansion of this industry brings with it an increase in environmental risks. The Kimberley marine environment is of global significance. It’s time for the Minister to get serious about preventing another spill: We need substantial reforms of the petroleum industry to make it safe for both the environment and its workforce,” Mr Pritchard concluded.

For further comment, call Martin Pritchard on 0427 548 075

Photo credit for attached photograph: Martin Pritchard


To read the report in full, please see:

“The problems were not complicated or unsolvable, and the potential remedies were well known and not costly. This was a failure of ‘sensible oilfield practice 101’ p.7

“...In essence, the way that PTTEPAA operated the Montara Oilfield did not come within a ‘bull’s roar’ of sensible oilfield practice. The Blowout was not a reflection of one unfortunate incident, or of bad luck. What happened with the H1 Well was an accident waiting to happen; the company’s systems were so deficient and its key personnel so lacking in basic competence, that the Blowout can property be said to have been an event waiting to occur. Indeed during the course of its public hearing, the Inquiry discovered that not one of the five Montara wells currently complies with the company’s Well Construction Standards...” p.11

Inquiry rejects NT assertion that all approvals issued by them met relevant legislation, and found the NT’s DoR’s regulatory environment was “...totally inadequate, being little more than a ‘tick and flick’ exercise.” P.14

The NT DoR took just 30 minutes to provide approval to suspend the H1 Well using PCCs rather than a cement plug, even though these were not intended to be used as barriers against a blowout. P.16

“...The approach taken by the NT DoR is in part reflective of a profound misunderstanding of what is required of a regulator under the modern day objective approach to regulatory oversight...” p.16

Inquiry notes it took until 15 September 2009 for DEWHA to act as the Environmental and Scientific Co-ordinator:
“...There were no legislative provisions available to DEWHA to require PTTEPAA to undertake scientific monitoring and the cost of scientific monitoring was not recoverable under the National Plan. It needed to be undertaken on a voluntary basis, and there was certainly no funding, resources or equipment available to DEWHA to undertake scientific monitoring....p.24

A scientific monitoring program (the ‘Monitoring Plan’) was not agreed until 9 October 2009 via a MoU between PTTEPAA and DEWHA .

“...It is unlikely that the full environmental consequences of the Blowout will ever be known. This reflects the vast and remote area affected by the spill; the absence of solid reliable baseline data on species and ecosystems; and the slow response in putting in place the Monitoring Plan...” p.26

“...PTTEPAA’s submission to the Inquiry of December 2009 was seriously deficient in terms of its depiction of what had occurred. Subsequent statutory declarations provided by PTTEPAA personnel shortly prior to the Inquiry’s public hearing displayed no real appreciation of the issued that the Inquiry needed to address. In fact, PTTEPAA’s efforts in this regard were in important respects misleading and unhelpful to the Inquiry’s task of determining the circumstances and causes of the Blowout..

“By its own admission, PTTEPAA made no substantive effort subsequent to the Blowout to truly find out what had happened and why. It tried in its submission to limit responsibility to PTTEPAA personnel on the rig. It failed in that endeavour, with senior onshore personnel being shown to be critically involved, or directly involved in oversighting shonky procedures...” p.29

“The Inquiry considers that PTTEPAA’s investigative inertia was both extraordinary and irresponsible.” p.331

“The egregious failure of PTTEPAA to come to grips with the circumstances and likely causes of the Blowout cannot be regarded as a matter of little significance or as a side issue. It resulted in PTTEPAA, on numerous occasions, giving false and misleading information to various officials. Further, that failure undermines the extent to which PTTEPAA can be relied upon to make proper judgments, and act responsibly, when its interests are at stake.” p.333

“ the seven months since the Blowout PTTEPAA has supplied a good deal of false and misleading information to NOPSA and to this Inquiry p.340


  1. Somewhat amazed by the fact Gail McGowan believes these type of disasters can be mitigated by waffle,and Martin Ferguson thinks because he's an asshole the laws of probability don't apply to him.
    Having worked in the construction industry most of my life,the one thing I have had to learn is,when you get dickheads like this in the office,Murphy's Law runs amok on the site.
    I wouldn't touch a job on this puked up mess if it was the last job on planet Earth.

  2. Well, you know what they say

  3. It sounds like the Commission has produced a strong report and has used very direct language to show its concern about this whole mess.

    The story is breathtaking! The company failed to implement basic industrial safety standards and a disastrous explosion and release of oil resulted. It didn't seem to be anyones fault and there were no penalties enforced against the company. They then lied repeatedly to the Commission and were generally uncooperative with enquiries. Instead of stiff penalties and bans from Australian waters, they are rewarded with more licences!

    Just imagine if the average person like you or me did a fraction of this damage to property and the environment. We would be in so much trouble we'd probably end up in the slammer for years, yet somehow these resource companies can get away with absolutely anything.

    Mr Ferguson, your bosses, the people of Australia, want a lot better than this. You are a long way off the pace mate.

  4. Yes they have rigged the game,all the dice are loaded.

    Here are a few of the latest "we can screw anyone games" from the US.

    1 year on from the gulf spill.
    The fund established by BP and run by Kenneth Feinberg,(who is not independent from BP and has been ordered by a judge to stop representing himself in that way),has decided final payments be based on a complete ecological recovery within 2 years.BP argues this is TOO generous.
    This is despite the fact the Herring fishery in Alaska collapsed 4 years after the Exxon Valdez.
    Huge dead zones and masses of oil being found on the seabed and elsewhere in the gulf.
    Baby Dolphin deaths soaring.
    No info yet on the effect of all the chemical dispersant.

    22 years since the Exxon Valdez.
    People are seeking an extra $100 million to clean up areas still inundated with oil.Exxon have told them to go take a hike,too late we're done.

    Re deep water drilling and fraccing:The same phrase keeps coming up,"the regulators can't keep up with all the advances".

    Which brings us to Ferguson and Burke.
    If Australian regulators were so hapless with the shallow water spill from the Montara well,then how will they go with rigs in the Bight drilling down 5 times further than the Deepwater Horizon?
    Not forgetting the conditions off our north coast were mostly flat calm,and the Bight has extreme "roaring forties" conditions.
    Burke thinks he has a handle on fraccing,bullshit!The awakening to this disaster is just getting started.

    And Bergman quits the KLC to start a business fast tracking projects for Aboriginals.No guesses for how that will end up.

    "Destroying our drinking water is wrong way to create jobs."