Safety a top priority for Woodside rigs

MARY Hackett spent much of the 1980s studying by the sea in Galway, Ireland. Now she spends time each month on the sea, on a rig off WA’s north-west coast.

As a support engineer for Woodside’s Goodwyn A offshore gas production platform, 130 kilometres north-west of Dampier, Ms Hackett is responsible for helping maintain the daily production of 900 million cubic feet of gas and 110,000 barrels of condensate.

The gas and condensate are delivered by a 30-inch subsea trunkline to the North Rankin A production platform, 23 kilometres away.

Her position includes responsibility for the operations of a number of pipelines, flow-lines and wells, assisting staff in implementing changes and managing non-routine activities, such as well clean-ups.

Ms Hackett describes herself as an “operations focal point” for major projects, such as a second trunkline to connect Rankin, Goodwyn and the Cossack-Pioneer facility.

Equipment is often custom made for each project and circumstance and, while Shell is Woodside’s technical partner in the North West Shelf venture, Ms Hackett said Woodside, as operator, has not been reluctant to pioneer new technologies that will give it an edge.

Like project managers in any industry, Ms Hackett does a lot of listening and talking, “seeing first hand what the issues are”, when she gets out on the platform.

“It’s one of those jobs where you’re managing budgets, you’re managing schedules, you’re managing personal concerns,” she said.

Ms Hackett doesn’t think her job is so unusual. Given that her first job after training as a mechanical engineer was in the British North Sea offshore industry, her view is understandable.

She said it was quite common to see female engineers or other staff on rigs these days. When she came to Australia in 1990, Ms Hackett worked offshore on the North Rankin platform, but at the time, women did not work on the rigs in any other roles.

Despite being recommended for a position as the HVAC engineer on the Goodwyn hook-up barge, she was knocked back because of the space female accommodation would require.

“But a woman out on a platform now is just passé,” Ms Hackett said. “I mean, nobody turns their head anymore.

“If I went to my manager tomorrow and said I wanted to work offshore, he’d have no problem putting me out there. It wouldn’t be an issue.”

Nevertheless, while the social and climatic conditions are far less harsh on Goodwyn than those she faced in the North Sea a decade ago, Ms Hackett said female engineers were not queuing to separate themselves from family and friends to take on supervisory roles of 14-day by 12-hour cycles.

With a husband and young child, Ms Hackett prefers a role where she can visit the Goodwyn platform each month, but mostly offer daily support from her Central Park base.

As a pipeline support engineer, Ms Hackett’s latest major responsibility is with the Echo Yodel gas-condensate project, the first major tie-back to the North West Shelf venture, and for which pre-installation work has started.

The $205 million Echo Yodel development, 23 kilometres south-west of the Goodwyn platform, will compensate for the natural decline of liquids from the Goodwyn wells, extending the life of the platform by up to five years.

Two subsea wells from the Echo Yodel field will link into Goodwyn via corrosion-resistant alloy pipelines, to supply as much as a further 0.4 trillion cubic feet of gas and boost condensate production by 37 million barrels.

Apart from its use in the production of aviation and automotive fuels, gas condensate also fuels chemical plants, a number of which are planned for the region adjoining the venture’s Burrup Peninsula processing plant.

The most recent far-reaching change to Ms Hackett’s job, however, has resulted from Woodside’s performance leadership and self-management program.

Ms Hackett describes the program, initiated last year, as the promotion of personal accountability for making one’s own job work.

Ms Hackett believes the initiative has spawned widespread attitude changes, making interaction among all employees more dynamic and comfortable.

Perhaps the changes are becoming evident beyond company walls as well. Norm Jodrell, who first bought three shares in Woodside’s Melbourne predecessor for £5 each 50 years ago, said while the company had “assembled some brilliant business know-how over the years”, he noticed a “friendship” emanating from this year’s annual general meeting, held for the first time in Perth.

Safety, another big issue for Woodside, also was highlighted at the AGM.

Ms Hackett said safety was very much a part of everything she does.

“Most of the jobs that come up will be somehow safety-related, or related to integrity issues.

“Woodside’s attention to safety is phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like it elsewhere,” she said.

Ms Hackett was full of praise for the platform workers.

“The guys there are the best in their field. They know they’re very well treated, they’re appreciative of it and they enjoy their work a lot,” she said.

So while Woodside has appeared almost feverish in proving it is worth far more than any public suitor has yet offered, what underpins the success of the crusade is perhaps only now becoming more apparent.

What also is becoming apparent is that Woodside sees its future role as not just that of a hydrocarbon explorer and producer at home and away, but as a major player in all aspects of the Australian energy industry.

In the past year the company has: signed a letter of intent to supply natural gas to a Queensland refinery; bought a 10 per cent interest in an eastern states energy retailing business; discovered gas in the Otway Basin with partner Origin Energy; advanced plans to supply LNG-fired power to the west Kimberley region; and held its breath as reserve tenderer for a gas-fired power plant in Esperance.

Origin Energy is a perfect partner for Woodside. The Sydney-based company has interests in 30 cogeneration plants, retails gas in most Australian states and the NT, plans to build a new gas pipeline from Victoria to South Australia, is currently drilling in the Perth Basin and has purchased the generation output from Australia’s largest wind farm in Codrington, Victoria.

Woodside also is into alternative energy sources, earlier this year launching a renewable and sustainable energy subsidiary, Metasource, to manage investments in wave energy, fuel cells, biomass ventures and its synthetic natural gas hydrate research program.

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