Monday, 16 November 2009
Questions without Notice
Timor Sea Oil Spill
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Energy and the Minister for Tourism. Will the minister update the House on progress with the Montara commission of inquiry and work to secure the Montara well now that the flow of oil and gas has been stopped?
I thank the member for Fremantle for her question. I understand the close attention she has paid to the Montara oil and gas leak. On that note, I am pleased to advise the House that on 3 November PTTEP Australasia, the operator of the Montara oil field, successfully killed the leaking well and the fire that had broken out on the Montara wellhead platform. I extend my appreciation to all those involved for the assistance and hard work they put into killing the well.
Bringing the well under control was a great relief to all those involved and to the Australian community. I am also required to advise the House that there is more work to be done to secure the well and to make the facilities safe. For those reasons, on Friday of last week, I met with PTTEP Australasia in Perth to discuss the work that still needs to be done. Unfortunately, the impact of the fire on both the West Atlas drilling rig and the Montara wellhead platform means that this work will take longer than initially expected. Technical options are still under review and PTTEP Australasia is working with the relevant regulators, particularly the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority to ensure that the work is done safely and as soon as possible. All options require access to the Montara wellhead platform and therefore safety case revisions will have to take into account the new hazards introduced following the fire, requiring very careful consideration by PTTEP Australasia and careful assessment by NOPSA.
I also emphasise that, before personnel are able to undertake any activity at either facility, the operator must provide NOPSA with evidence that all risks have been comprehensively assessed and that control measures are in place to reduce the risk to a level that is as low as is reasonably practical. Concurrent with this work, I announced the commencement of the Montara commission of inquiry on 5 November, although I first flagged this on 7 September.
As I was indicating—and I am sure that the member for Sturt is very interested in this matter—it is important that we seek to understand the cause of the incident, that we learn from it and that we put in place any measures that could stop it from happening again. For those reasons I appointed Mr David Borthwick, the former secretary of the department of the environment, to conduct the inquiry in accordance with the amendments supported by the House to the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act. Those amendments provide a broad-ranging major incident investigation power for the commissioner.
I also note that the commissioner will consider the environmental impacts of the incident including reviewing environmental monitoring laws. In the last couple of years there have been four serious oil and gas incidents, two during tropical cyclone Billy involving floating facilities used in petroleum production, the recent Montaro accident and Varanus gas explosion which effectively meant Western Australia lost 30 per cent of its electricity for a considerable period.
I note that these facilities involve incidents which are regulated by a combination of Commonwealth, Western Australian and Northern Territory agencies. Each of these events has been or will continue to be subject to independent investigations. I can assure the House that I will be acting on the recommendations of those independent investigations.