The Australian Oil Spill  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , ,

Phil Hart has a post at The Oil Drum on the Montara oil spill off Australia last year - The Australian Oil Spill.

The Age in Melbourne today has an article about a possible moratorium on oil and gas drilling in Australian waters, as a result of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea off Australia last year. A review into the Montara accident has just been completed but has not been released, for 'legal reasons'. Apparently prosecutions may be in order. It's a pity as the review may highlight some common factors with the Gulf of Mexico spill, particularly in relation to the failure of the BOPs to seal the well. ...

Given how much outrage the BP spill has caused in the United States, it's remarkable that after the first few days, the Montara oil spill was largely ignored by everyone in Australia and was probably never heard of in most parts of the world. This despite being our nation's largest oil spill and causing an oil slick 180 km (110 mi) wide (not bad for what was really a gas well and considering that much of the oil burnt at the wellhead). With so little public outrage, there has been very little pressure on the operators PTTEP to release details of the incident to the public. The official review has now been completed but even that may not be available for quite sometime:
The Age: Why the oil minister doesn't feel too well right now

We have not heard much about the Montara incident. No one was killed and maybe 30,000 barrels of oil spilled into the sea over a few months … that's less than BP's Deepwater Horizon was thought to be gushing into the Gulf of Mexico per day. And Australian-listed companies were not involved in Montara. The key companies involved were PTTEP of Thailand, and Atlas and Halliburton, both of the US.

But as luck would have it, an extended investigation of the Timor Sea incident has just been completed. The report was handed to Martin Ferguson last Friday … and the first thing the minister did was hold on to the document for ''a legal review''. Now you might think that is an easy way out for a government that will be damned if it responds to the Greens and doubly damned by a raging multinational resources sector. But the report has been delayed for public release on advice of the Solicitor-General. In other words, there is the real possibility of prosecutions following the Montara incident.

That's a pity because there is likely to be a lot of information in this inquiry relevant to the Deepwater Horizon blowout. But already it adds weight to the idea that there have been a large number of accidents and 'near misses' and that a serious blowout and failure of the BOP was not as 'unforseeable' as some in the industry have claimed. If prosecutions are a 'real possibility', then clearly somebody or some companies have not been doing their jobs very well. Some of the companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon blowout will surely be a little worried at the moment?

Dan Cass has an article suggesting Halliburton could be one company that could be worried - Halliburton Dumps US Congress and Oil Spill Plaintiffs In Legal Deepwater.
President Obama’s administration and BP’s critics in Congress will be keen to read the Montara oil spill report that Mr David Borthwick, AO PSM gives to Australia’s Minister for Resources, Martin Ferguson today.

Mr Ferguson has been a staunch defender of the operator of the Montara facility and a proud booster of the oil industry generally. It is surprising then, that Australia is not one of the 17 countries who have offered to help clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the US State Department (Although BP has used some Australian resources in the clean up.)

Minister Ferguson is under pressure to release the Montara report quickly, because of the the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The Minister’s office has said that he needs ‘a few days’ to read the report, after which it will be put in the public domain.

As Crikey reported Halliburton built the concrete wellhead on both BP Mississippi Canyon 252 well (MC252) in the Gulf of Mexico and the Montara Wellhead Platform at the West Atlas site in the Timor Sea.

Halliburton ranks number 2 among oilfield services companies globally and was ranked as 310 in a Fortune 500 listing, with revenues around US$18 billion. The company is best known for allegations of nepotism, corruption, human rights abuse and overcharging the US military, through its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), which it sold in 2007. KBR was the business division responsible for military logistics support.

Halliburton’s Tim Probert (President, Global Business Lines and Chief Health, Safety and Environmental Officer) has told the US House Committee on Energy hearings that there was no connection between Montara and Deepwater, but his wording is a matter of some concern.

When Probert was asked if Hallliburton was involved in cementing the Montara wellhead and whether this is relevant to the MC252 failure he replied with an interesting qualification, “We were involved in the well cementing. But what we do know from the public testimony is that a 5-month period elapsed between the time the cementing was completed and that the well control issue took place. [emphasis added]”

Probert continues but the gist is that he refers only to the ‘public testimony’ that his company gave to the Montara inquiry. My understanding is that he was appearing before the House on the basis of his ‘sufficient knowledge’ of technical issues, not merely his ability to inform the House about information already on the public record in another country.

This is curious, because if Probert was confident that there was no connection between Montara and Deepwater, surely he would state this simply and unconditionally. By restricting his assurance to only the public evidence, it raises the question of what other evidence exists.


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