EXXONMobil Australia Chairman John Dashwood estimated the company had worked through 85 to 90% of Bass Strait oil deposits but only 50% of its gas resources, so consequently predicted that there were “a good few decades [left] to use the remaining resources.”
He was speaking at the annual ExxonMobil Australia (EMA) Community Liaison lunch held at Foster Golf Club last Thursday where company employees mingled with representatives from stakeholders across an area ranging from Corner Inlet through to Lakes Entrance that EMA does business with in relation to its Barry Beach Marine Terminal (BBMT) and Bass Strait oil and gas drilling operations (Esso Australia Pty Ltd is a subsidiary of ExxonMobil).
Besides the Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan, lunch attendees included representatives of South Gippsland Shire, South Gippsland Water, Gippsland Ports, Parks Victoria, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, South Gippsland Hospital, district emergency services (CFA brigades, Police, State Emergency Service, Rural Ambulance Victoria), primary and secondary schools, the Environment Protection Authority, fishermen’s and seafood industry groups and Barry Beach Marine Terminal contractors.
The lunch was also a welcome opportunity for guests to network with each other.
South Gippsland Shire Mayor Cr Jim Fawcett said he did not press Mr. Dashwood on funding for Council interests even though they were sitting side by side, although Cr Jeanette Harding joked aloud about desiring funding for Long Jetty.
Some of these represent recipients of fund donations from the company, while others share premises or environments, have allied interests or have responsibility for regulatory control aspects and surrounding communities.
Noting that energy derived from coal had a much larger environmental footprint than energy derived from gas, Mr. Dashwood pointed out that nowadays, energy industries were conscious of their greenhouse footprint.
He referred to the combination of improving technology and increasing operational efficiencies as being very important in bringing forms of energy to commercial markets.
“Historically, it takes around 50 years to find a new fuel and make it a significant part of the commercial energy mix, so our projects work in decades,” he noted.
He outlined that some efficiencies are used on exploiting current gas and oil reserves, for example technology enables small drill holes with greater subsea reach that more accurately target and access small reservoirs in Bass Strait in a way that as a drilling engineer, Mr. Dashwood had only dreamed about 25 years ago.
Using his hands to indicate a diameter about the size of a dinner plate, Mr. Dashwood said drill holes were much smaller, penetration was threefold and targets could be 80% smaller than previously accessed, which had both economical and environmental benefits.
“Snapper [platform in Bass Strait] has the longest well in Australia at 6.5 kilometres and is drilling at the fastest rate of 1.3 kilometres per day,” he marveled.
However with an eye to the future, he said ExxonMobil was also partnering in research with Synthetic Genomics Inc. to develop efficient alternative fuels from non-food sources such as oil generated by algae, which only requires carbon, light and low quality water to survive.
An alternative form of oil is of interest to the company as the product could be distributed using existing petrochemical infrastructure.
In answer to a question from the floor put by Bruce Lester, Mr. Dashwood indicated that discussions were being held with the State Government about the possibility of storing carbon dioxide produced by the Latrobe Valley [power generators] in the reservoir pores that had been emptied of oil and gas [hydrocarbons] by company drilling in Bass Strait.
In addition to the Bass Strait resources, Mr. Dashwood referred to Exxon Mobil expanding drilling operations in Western Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Changing the subject to the impact of the company’s work on governments, communities and places, Mr. Dashwood emphasised contributions of time, money and effort by the company and its employees through corporate programs, employee programs and local projects – the latter undertaken through the Esso BHP Billiton Joint Venture Contributions program.
The recipient programs focused on health, safety, education and environmental outcomes.
Benefiting organisations include a number of marine-focused projects such as the Phillip Island Nature parks seals research education resource to the People and Parks Foundation’s Sea Search program monitoring Victoria’s marine national parks.
The Gippsland community is helped through funds to Uniting Care Gippsland, Mirradong Services, Gippsland RoadSafe and many schools, fire brigades, scouts, Landcare and agricultural groups to name a few.
Wednesday November 17 is also the company’s Day of Caring, with Mr. Dashwood due to help out at the Cancer Council Victoria, and other staff encouraged to contribute personal effort on the day, including a group working in Foster on maintenance at the Uniting Care Gippsland facility.
As a direct input to education, Mr. Dashwood advised that a limited number of teachers from schools near the Bass Strait facility (Longford and Seaholme Primary Schools) and the Altona refinery Melbourne were provided with access to best practice experience at the Mickelson Academy in America for teaching science and maths to students.
This has the dual purpose of both wider community benefit and potentially growing a numerically literate, local pool of employees.
However when South Gippsland Secondary College Principal Cheryl Glowrey asked about the future local employment opportunities rolling out for parents and young people, BBMT Superintendent Mark Duthie was unable to provide information about future staff demand beyond noting that BBMT had an ageing workforce and the company preferred to source employees locally.
Mr. Dashwood then talked about annual grants to volunteer groups that company employees were personally involved in supporting and the annual Day of Caring (November 17 in 2010) that employees were encouraged to participate in by volunteering their time.
This aspect of company operations was also emphasised by Mr. Duthie who took over in January as BBMT Plant Superintendent.
Mr. Duthie urged all community organisations that had a connection with an Exxon Mobil employee [as a parent, member or similar] to talk to that person about obtaining a grant from the company.
A Carrajung resident for many years, Mr. Duthie related the personal experience of the thrill of being able to help out small local organisations such as the primary school and fire brigade with sums available of $1,000 per employee volunteer up to an annual limit of $5,000 where more than one employee was connected with the organisation.
“This year we handed out $133,000 in employee volunteer grants of which 50% went to Gippsland,” he reported.
Introducing himself to the audience as the successor to BBMT Superintendent Ray Prain and as someone who had worked at the Longford facility for more than 24 years, Mark Duthie launched into an account of the amount of work and the changes that had occurred at BBMT since the start of the year.
(By profession, Mr. Duthie is an industrial chemist and has managed the laboratory and other matters at the Longford site.)
He explained that with Drilling Rig 175 winding down and the Kipper-Tuna-Turra (KTT) taking off, BBMT had been much busier than usual as the launch off point for supplies.
For most of 2010, the site has averaged more than double the usual amount of freight, has attended to up to nine sea vessels instead of two, received extra visits of oversize truck traffic and dispensed large amounts of diesel fuel to vessels.
Until last weekend, the pipe-laying Derrick Barge known as DB30 could be seen anchored in Corner Inlet as it was too large to dock at Barry Beach.
In response to a query from the floor by David Jones of Foster CFA about “that large bit of equipment in the Inlet”, Mr. Duthie explained that the vessel, which was highly visible at night due to its extensive lighting, had come from Indonesia and would soon be departing to work in Bass Strait on the Kipper-Tuna-Turrum project.
Although the company goal is zero injuries, Mr. Duthie observed that an unfortunate consequence of the extra work load had been an increase in the number of reported injuries, which was proving “a challenge”.
As safety was an area of “continual improvement”, Mr. Duthie added that all level of “hurts and near misses” at the site must now be reported, even at the ‘band aid required’ level so that risks can be recognised, assessed and managed before serious injury occurs.
He also explained that as part of a “proactive safety step up” program, 450 supervisors, team leaders and managers, and – in time – all 1,700 employees and contractors, would be attending a three-day residential course that uses innovative ways to engage individuals in making safety an automatic habit.
He happily reported that the first group of work crew employees has now attended the course and had returned fired up with a remarkable passion for occupational health and safety, which will be firmly supported by their supervisors who have already done the training.
As the numbers of staff through the course increases, Mr. Duthie looks forward to an improved level of long term safety performance as health and safety were “a number one priority”, ethic and organisational driver.
Mr. Duthie also mentioned that a number of changes had been implemented at BBMT since his arrival, including staff redeployment/restructure, increased maintenance focus, and systems documentation.
“They are not big changes but they are sufficient to significantly enhance BBMT performance,” he advised.
A first ever Family Open Day was held at BBMT so that families of employees could better envisage where their loved ones worked and what they did.
Claiming that ExxonMobil was an Australian energy industry leader in environmental safety, Mr. Duthie said that there was zero tolerance of spills and he was pleased to report that there had been no uncontained off-site spills at BBMT in the past year.
He was however, “very disappointed” that an Environment Protection Authority audit had found some non-compliant drums [containing drilling mud, oily water or were empty but unrinsed] on a disused part of the site.
But he also felt that a valuable lesson had been learned without any harm being done and the matter had been “addressed very fast”.
“I am pleased that a second unannounced EPA audit found there were no action items” he said, and was proud that the EPA had also recently used BBMT as an example to an international visitor of an energy industry site with a good environmental record.
As a result of an 18-month independent audit at BBMT that is related to renewal of the facility’s licence to receive, handle and store waste materials, Mr. Duthie added that the company was working through a large number of “heritage issues” relating to past practices at the site from 30 to 40 years ago.
In terms of relationships with the commercial fishing industry, Mr. Dashwood acknowledged that company relations with local and Lakes Entrance fishermen needed to be rebuilt as there were “some issues” that had “degraded” interaction between two groups that benefited from collaboration.
However in a question from the floor, Lakes Entrance Fisherman’s Co-op’s Dale Summer failed to obtain the commitment he sought from Mr. Dashwood that existing and new pipeline areas would be fishable and hazards removed, and the areas “kept that way.”
When Mr. Dashwood replied about having dialogue between “sibling industries with similar interests in natural resources” and “committing to understand each others issues”, Mr. Summer emphasised that there had already been months of dialogue and no commitment to keeping the pipeline areas fishable had yet been received.
Denis Shepard a fisherman and representative on the Exxon Fishing Tribunal later asked about the situation of future decommissioning of Bass Strait platforms and what was the lifespan planning for the older structures.
Mr. Dashwood said decommissioning could range from removal of all topside structures and possibly pipelines, through to toppling platforms in situ.
“It’s hard to speculate because future rules and regulations are unknown, but I expect that the more we take away the better you’ll feel!” he responded.