Friday, June 25, 2010

Will any corporation be held to account for the Montara explosion?

It is looking even more doubtful that any corporation will be held to account for the West Atlas/Montara explosion and oil leak, and subsequent ecological, economic and environmental damage, despite it being the largest oil explosion, blowout and leak in Australian history.

And the Federal Government continues to approve drilling operations, despite the lessons of the Montara catastrophe.

The Report of the Montara Inquiry into the explosion and 75 day long leak from the West Atlas/Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea (off the Western Australian coast) has been handed to the Federal Government. However, Martin Ferguson the responsible Minister is refusing to release the Report, citing legal reasons.

The Greens have called for the public release of the Report. In light of the eerie similarities (I have written about these before here) between the Montara explosion and the explosion and catastrophe on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf Coast, there is growing international interest in the Montara Report. Halliburton, the company responsible for cementing on the Montara well was also responsible for cementing on the Deepwater Horizon rig. It appears that cementing operations were a factor in both the Montara and Gulf explosions and blow out.

Public release of the Montara Report is essential, not only to ensure West Australians know what happened and to identify who was responsible, but also to ensure that such catastrophes never occur again. The regulatory, safety, engineering and management lessons of the Montara explosion will be important in shaping government and industry responses in Australia, and the USA, particularly the Inquiry into the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico catastrophe.

Based on press coverage, it appears likely that the Montara Report will find :
  • there were serious breakdowns in regulation, safety and management
  • the blow out was to be the result of a long chain of poor decision making, inaction and miscalculations and corporate greed
  • The well operator failed to follow its own safety procedures
  • The immediate trigger for the explosion is likely to be failure of vital pressure containment caps used to plug the well and problems with cementing
  • The well was not capped properly, causing it to burst.
  • a single National Regulator for offshore drilling is needed (although the Federal Minister has in the past opposed this) is needed.
One of the forgotten issues is the adverse social and environmental impacts of the blow out and spill in Indonesian and Timor Leste maritime waters. The governments of Indonesia and Timor Leste are now seeking compensation for the adverse impacts from the Australian government and PTTEP, the Thai owner of the Montara rig.

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