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Legends: Stephen Timms

Stephen Timms has been an integral part of Australia’s pipeline industry for over 40 years, spending the majority of his career on the Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline in the area of operations and engineering.

In 2000 Stephen formed his own consultancy after a period serving as APIA President.

Stephen’s career in the pipeline industry started in February 1970.

Having studied mechanical engineering at Whyalla in South Australia, he was working as a cadet at BHP in Whyalla when he decided that he wanted a change.

He moved to Adelaide and applied for a job at the Pipeline Authority of South Australia (PASA), which had just commissioned the Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline.

“I started off as a design engineer and mainly worked in cathodic protection,” says Stephen.

“One of my first jobs was to work with a contractor to commission the Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline’s cathodic protection system. It was quite an adventure because we had to drive along the pipeline and in those days there weren’t any roadways. We drove a Toyota with a soft canvas top. It was the height of summer and very dry so we got very dusty. When we finished at night you could just see the white of eyes and teeth.

“We actually got stuck at one point and had to call the Royal Flying Doctor Service, so one of my first jobs in the pipeline industry was to find a tree, carry this phone wire up it and paddle the generator so the contractor could make the call. In the end we managed to get onto the Flying Doctor Service and they organised our rescue,” he remembers.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Stephen progressed from design engineer to project engineer and project manager for PASA, and most of his time was spent doing project work on the Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline.

“When the pipeline was built, it was very basic. It didn’t have many laterals, connections or pig traps so we had to build laterals to various locations, including Whyalla, Port Pirie and Peterborough, and we had to install pig traps along the pipeline and connections for compressor stations,” recalls Stephen.

He was also involved in the construction of a number of other projects during this time, including the Moomba to Port Bonython Liquids Pipeline, the Riverland Pipeline, the South East Pipeline and seven compressor stations on the Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline.

Stephen says that constructing some of Australia’s earliest pipelines involved the use of new techniques, which sometimes gave rise to unforeseen problems.

He recalls the time the Whyalla Pipeline from Port Pirie to Whyalla got stuck 1 km from the shoreline of an 11 km crossing, due to sea grass that had attached itself between the two connected lines as it was crossing the Spencer Gulf, making it very difficult to pull.

“The idea was to build the pipelines on one side of the Spencer Gulf and tow them across to the other side. We managed to get the pipelines towed to about 10 km but we couldn’t complete the final 1 km so we ended up having to move the assembled pipe from the Port Pirie side to the other side of the Gulf and connect pipelines offshore.”

It was during this time that Stephen met and worked with a number of prominent pipeline industry personalities, including Grant Bowley, Tony Williams, Chris Hughes and John Lawrence.

“I actually hired Grant Bowley,” Stephen laughs.

“He and I worked together on quite a few projects including the liquids pipeline from Moomba to Port Bonython, the Whyalla Pipeline and various other projects we built during the 1980s. He and the others were very helpful to me.”

During this time, Stephen was also on a number of international research committees due to PASA’s membership with the American Gas Association’s Pipeline Research Committee.

He was also the Chair of the AME38 Pipeline Coating Committee from 1990-97 and was involved in the development of the 1997 version of AS 2885.

“Most of my time was spent in the research work associated with corrosion and cathodic protection. I had built up a lot of expertise in cathodic protection, pipeline design and the various problems associated with pipelines because the Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline was one of the very early pipelines and therefore wasn’t built to the current standard or using current methods.

“In 1994 the Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline was sold to Tenneco Energy. It was subsequently sold to Epic Energy where I worked for two years as Director of Operations and Engineering. I spent some time in the US where I met a lot of the operators and researchers, and I visited their pipeline systems quite regularly.

“We had access to the latest global research work, which was very useful during the operation of the Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline. It was also useful for me to get a much more global picture of what was going on and helped the development of the Australian code.

“I was also very lucky at this time to have an opportunity to work in WA on the Dampier to Bunbury Pipeline. I remember my 18 months in Perth fondly, having the privilege to work with some great people such as Mark Cooper, David Bradley and Tawaki Rakai, to name a few.”

Stephen was also a member of the Executive Committee of the APIA from 1993-97 and was President of APIA in 1997.

“During that period we moved the APIA office from Melbourne to Canberra and hired a Chief Executive. We also changed APIA to an industry based-association with Owner Members playing a greater role.

“We wanted to be more of a lobby group that had a voice in Canberra for the issues that were affecting the industry at that time.”

In 2000 Stephen formed his own consultancy service and has been working as an independent consultant for the past 14 years.

During his consultancy he was the Project General Manager for the South East Australia Gas Pipeline (SEA Gas) from Victoria to SA and was involved in the negotiation of gas transportation and supply contracts, as well as the successful completion of the SEA Gas Pipeline.

At the time, SA only had one pipeline supplying gas from Moomba and there was a possibility of a pipeline outage affecting delivery of gas.

Building another pipeline from Victoria increased the security and supply to the region.

The SEA Gas Pipeline was built on time and within budget and was commissioned just in time to prevent a shortfall of gas in January 2004, Stephen remembers.

“It just so happened that during the time we were commissioning the SEA Gas Pipeline there was a problem at Moomba, and unfortunately the gas delivery was cut off and there was no supply coming down the Moomba to Adelaide Pipeline.

“On 1 January 2004 there had been a fire at Moomba, and I received a phone call by 7:00 am to organise the immediate operation of the SEA Gas Pipeline to avert a gas supply shortage to Adelaide.”

Nowadays Stephen works a few days per month for Mark Dayman and other members of the team at Fyfe Pty Ltd assisting with corporate governance, organisational development and specialist pipeline advisory services.

He also has twin sons, Daniel and Charles, who have followed in his footsteps as mechanical engineers involved in the energy industry.

“I’m not sure if they were inspired by me, but they are doing better than I ever did at their age.

“I think it is a very exciting time and there are a lot of opportunities in the oil and gas area, whether in the pipeline industry or the upstream or downstream side of the oil and gas. These opportunities are expanding with the LNG developments currently taking place, major shale gas deposits in the Cooper Basin, oil discoveries off the North West Shelf, the Timor Sea and even in the Bass Strait developments. Any person who wants to get into an industry that has great opportunities, well, I think the oil and gas industry has plenty to offer.”

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