08/10/2009 - 00:00

The game just changed

08/10/2009 - 00:00

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GEARING up to work on major oil and gas projects can present special challenges for smaller and medium-sized firms, the WA Business News oil and gas services forum was told.

GEARING up to work on major oil and gas projects can present special challenges for smaller and medium-sized firms, the WA Business News oil and gas services forum was told.

Being prepared for those added challenges was, therefore, a vital factor in sharing in the opportunities presented by projects such as Gorgon.

Perth-based Marine & Civil Construction specialises in the construction of marine infrastructure, and has worked on some of Western Australia's most challenging marine installations, including Busselton's underwater observatory and the iron ore load out facility at the Koolan Island mine off the Kimberley coast.

The company has also begun targeting more oil and gas opportunities, and will be working on the upgrade of the WAPET Landing site on Barrow Island.

Yet working for multinational energy companies had brought with it a number of new challenges, managing director Kay Giles told the forum.

“For a medium-sized business just the paperwork involved in going to that next level ... certainly has an effect on a smaller business," she said.

“That requires you to bring in specialist people ... who have experience and have an understanding of what's required at that next level. So that is a challenge and an added cost to the business."

To meet those challenges, Ms Giles said Marine & Civil had teamed up with South African engineering group Murray & Roberts (now the controlling shareholder in Clough Ltd) "purely so we could both look at sourcing project managers and people at that higher level to deliver the work".

The strict quarantine conditions on Barrow Island also presented unique challenges, she said, making it more cost effective to buy all new equipment than to seek permission to use existing gear on the island.

Land Surveys managing director Peter Rullo said the extra qualifications that major oil companies required of every worker at their sites could also present a challenge for companies seeking to break into the sector. The specialist survey firm works for a variety of mining and energy companies including Rio Tinto and Woodside.

“What we've found ... is that their HR requirements are a bit different to the iron ore companies' requirements, where they will specifically require our guys to have a university degree or some qualification," Mr Rullo said.

That meant even workers with five or 10 years' industry experience could not be deployed at some sites, which in a tightening labour market would make it very difficult for new players to break in.

For Garry Barker, who heads the offshore division of specialist marine equipment and services provider AMI Sales, targeting the growing offshore servicing market had meant learning to compete head to head with foreign rivals in their home territory.

“There's been a fairly big uplift in the number of vessels required to service the offshore industry, but unfortunately that's all been overseas," he said. "But we've been successful in getting into shipyards and things in Asia, and putting our packages of gear on those sorts of boats."

Closer to home, the boom in local oil and gas development meant growing opportunities to help growing local fleet of offshore service vessels to maintain and update their equipment, he said.

But like every other member of the forum, Mr Barker said the key challenge remained access to suitably qualified people.

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