02/07/2020 - 15:39

Contractors face safety charges

02/07/2020 - 15:39

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Two major contractors in the oil and gas sector, Technip Oceania and DOF Subsea, are facing legal action over their safety practices on the Wheatstone and Ichthys gas projects.

Contractors face safety charges
Chevron had contracted Technip for the Wheatstone facility in 2015. Photo: Chevron

Two major contractors in the oil and gas sector, Technip Oceania and DOF Subsea, are facing legal action over their safety practices on the Wheatstone and Ichthys gas projects.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority announced this week that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has commenced legal proceedings against DOF Subsea Australia.

Separately, the Commonwealth DPP had a Supreme Court win early this week in its action against Technip Oceania.

Both matters relate to safety breaches on offshore LNG facilities located in Commonwealth waters off the West Australian coast.

The action against DOF Subsea stemmed from an investigation conducted by NOPSEMA.

It said the investigation followed complaints from a number of divers who were injured during a saturation diving project as part of INPEX’s Ichthys project in June and July 2017.

“The specific breaches of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 relate to DOF’s responsibilities as an employer to employees at a facility,” NOPSEMA said.

The first court appearance has been listed in the Magistrates Court for 14 August.

In a statement, DOF Subsea Australia said it was considering the charges and was unable to comment further as this matter was before the courts.

Meanwhile, the DPP has been granted leave to appeal against the acquittal in April last year of one charge against Technip.

Technip was charged with performing work in a manner that was contrary to the ‘safety case’ in force at Chevron’s Wheatstone facility, contrary to the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Safety) Regulations 2009.

Technip had been contracted by Chevron in 2015 to fabricate and install subsea structures and a pipeline to pipe gas from the Wheatstone field to the mainland.

The key issue in the case was a change made by Technip to the project’s ‘safety case’.

In particular, it was agreed that the North Sea Atlantic, which acted as the ‘hyperbaric rescue vessel’ and contained the ‘life support package’, was able to leave the Wheatstone field during diving operations.

“I have concluded it was reasonably open to the magistrate to find that Technip was reckless,” Justice Paul Tottle said in this week’s judgement. 

“The magistrate found the Site Change Request Form significantly changed the safety management system,” he added.

“Indeed, his Honour expressed his view that this was so in trenchant terms, referring to the change as a 'poor substitute' and being 'miles outside what was contemplated by the safety case'.”

A key witness in the original hearing was Technip's Subsea Operations Manager Adrien Seguela.

“The magistrate was presented with a situation in which Mr Seguela's subjective belief was substantially inconsistent with the objective fact as his Honour had found it to be,” Justice Tottle explained. 

“If the magistrate had not accepted Mr Seguela's evidence of his state of mind then it would have been open for his Honour to conclude that the only rational inference open on the evidence was that Mr Seguela, and thus Technip, was reckless.”

Providing further explanation, Justice Tottle also stated:

“Nothing in the preceding paragraphs should be taken as implicitly suggesting that Mr Seguela's evidence should not have been accepted. 

“Rather, these reasons should be read only as holding that it was reasonably open to the magistrate to accept the submissions of the appellant concerning the state of mind of Technip.”

The matter will return to the Magistrates Court of Western Australia for rehearing.

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