Investigation into Montara platform incident intensifies

The Australian government’s Commission of Inquiry will have the powers and authority of a Royal Commission in investigating into the Montara platform incident in the Timor Sea, according the Australian Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson.

Rick Wilkinson
OGJ Correspondent

MELBOURNE, Nov. 6 -- The Australian government’s Commission of Inquiry will have the powers and authority of a Royal Commission in investigating into the Montara platform incident in the Timor Sea, according the Australian Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson.

Thai company PTTEP Australasia, which acquired Montara late last year, this week finally was able to plug the oil leak from a well drilled from the platform and snuff out a fire that had broken out (OGJ Online, Nov. 4, 2009).

Ferguson has appointed David Borthwick, a senior officer of the Federal Public Service and, most recently, Secretary of the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage, and Arts.

Borthwick will investigate and report on:

• The likely cause(s) of the incident.

• The adequacy and effectiveness of the regulatory regime, including approved safety, environment, and resource management arrangements.

• The performance of relevant persons in carrying out their obligations under the regulatory regime.

• The adequacy of response requirements and the actual response to the incident.

• The environmental impact as a result of the incident, including a review of environmental monitoring plans.

• The offshore petroleum industry’s response to the incident and provision and accessibility of information concerning the incident to stakeholders and the Australian community.

“I have also requested that Borthwick make recommendations to government ministers, regulators, and the industry on measures that might mitigate against similar incidents occurring in the future and alleviate the safety, environmental and resource impacts arising from such an incident,’ Ferguson said.

The commissioner will present his report by April 2010. Four other separate reviews and investigations also are being carried out into the Montara incident by Northern Territory and Federal government departments, the National Offshore Petroleum and Safety Authority, and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

In the meantime, PTTEP has terminated a contract with engineering firm Clough Australia for completion of installation of the offshore facilities at the Montara field.

Clough’s Java Constructor vessel, which installed the Montara wellhead platform topsides, has been on standby during the incident, but the contract will now be closed out in accordance with the termination provisions.

Clough says it has offered its services to PTTEP and rig owner Seadrill to assist with remedial work. Clough secured the $116 million (Aus.) contract from PTTEP earlier this year.

For its part PTTEP has carried out a close-in helicopter flight around the damaged platform and West Atlas rig to better assess the fire damage. The support vessel Nor Captain continues to monitor the situation and the company hopes to reboard the wellhead platform next week.

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