Pipelining in South Australia – Where it all started: The Moomba-Adelaide Pipeline

As the pipeline industry gathers in Adelaide for the Australian Pipeline Industry Association Convention, it is fitting that our look at the history of pipeline construction in Australia moves to the story of oil and gas pipelining in South Australia, which starts with the construction of the 782 km 22 inch natural gas pipeline from the Moomba gas fields in north east South Australia to Adelaide.

It was the discovery in the Cooper Basin by Santos that was the catalyst for pipeline construction in South Australia.

The story of Santos started back in 1953 when John Bonython got together with old school friend Robert Francis Bristowe with the idea of exploring for oil. In March 1954 the South Australia Northern Territory Oil Search company (SANTOS) was formed. Santos was established to examine in particular “those portions of South Australia where the Great Artesian and other basins give promise of there being sedimentary strata suitable for the generation and accumulation of oil and also areas in the Northern Territory and other states which offer likely possibilities.”

The company took out an oil exploration licence covering about 120,500 square miles of SA extending from the Northern Territory border to near Wallaroo in the south.

In 1958 Delhi Australian Petroleum Ltd earned a 50 per cent interest in the exploration area and became the operator for the Delhi-Santos group. The first deep test well began in February 1959 and the big break came in December 1963 when natural gas was discovered at Gidgealpa.

The story of the Moomba – Adelaide pipeline begins in early 1967 when talks with probable customers such as the SA Gas Company and the Electricity Trust of SA established that a good market existed in the Adelaide area for natural gas.

The first gas sales contracts were executed with the SA Gas Company, SA Portland Cement Co Ltd and Adelaide Cement Company Ltd in April 1967. An agreement on price and quantities to supply natural gas for the operation of the new Torrens Island Power Station was also agreed with the Electricity Trust of SA in 1967.

Arrangements were discussed for the financing and building of the pipeline and in April the South Australian Government passed the Natural Gas Pipelines Authority Act. The Natural Gas Pipeline Authority was then formed to take over the responsibility for the construction and operation of the pipeline from the SA Mines Department.

Bechtel Pacific Corporation, an international engineering organisation with wide experience in natural gas operations, had previously been engaged by the SA Mines Department to study the economics involved in the building of a pipeline and was made Engineering Manager by the Authority.

Bechtel set to work and calculated that either an 18 or 22 inch diameter pipeline would be feasible and, if more gas was discovered, a 22 inch pipeline would be better. More gas was found soon after at Daralingie about 25 miles south of Moomba and further exploration at Moomba revealed even greater reserves.

Following this exploration success the Authority decided to build a 22 inch pipeline and make provisions for increasing the capacity of the pipeline system with compressors.

Tenders for construction were invited from Australian firms and selected overseas contractors. Bids were opened in June 1968 and Snam Progetti, a large and experienced Italian pipeline contractor, was awarded the contract as announced by SA Treasurer and Deputy Chairman of the SA Natural Gas Pipeline Authority Mr G G Pearson in July 1968. Pipe laying was to begin in early October 1968 with preliminary work on clearing and general mobilisation to proceed immediately.

Shortly before this, bids were invited for the supply of pipe. Australian mills could supply just over half the quantity in the time available and the remainder was purchased from Nippon Kokan, a Japanese mill.

Stewarts & Lloyds (S&L) supplied 155 miles of 22 inch OD x .312″ in 60 ft lengths to API specification 5LX grade X52. Stewarts & Lloyds also supplied 24 miles of ERW pipe 8 5/8 inch OD x .188″ WT to API specification 5LX grade X42 for the Angaston lateral. The pipe was manufactured at S & L’s Kembla Grange plant. Humes Ltd supplied 75 miles of 22 inch OD API specification steel pipe manufactured at their new Keswick, Adelaide plant installed specifically for this purpose.

Terrain and climate were considered during the planning and it was determined that as temperatures in the desert country are often over 100ºF and may rise to 130ºF, work would begin at the southern end and would be restricted in the desert to the more comfortable autumn and winter months.

Over 300 different property owners had to be contacted and Bechtel had its agents talk to each and every one. Adelaide born Mr Ron Nicholas’ (The Ru) company Red-Ru Pipelines constructed the branch line 24 miles into the Angaston Cement works.

In an interview published in the Adelaide Advertiser Ron Nicholas was quoted as saying that while in Canada it never occurred to him that one day he would head up a pipeline spread in his home state. His company Red-Ru was formed in 1964 in Brisbane and the company built pipelines in Queensland and Victoria.

Shipments of pipe from Japan for the natural gas pipeline began to arrive in July 1968 into Port Adelaide and pipe from NSW started to arrive around the same time via Broken Hill and was stockpiled at various sites along the route. About 165 miles of the pipe was in 60 ft lengths and the balance was in 40 ft lengths. Some 240 miles of the 40 ft pipes were transported to Terowie, a small township about 200 miles north of Adelaide, where Snam Progetti had a double jointing yard. The pipes were “double jointed” into 80 ft lengths using machine welding, cutting the field welding by half.

Fluor Australia Pty Ltd was contracted to construct the gas gathering facilities at Gidgealpa.

The gas plant at Moomba was designed and built by Davy Ashmore Pty Ltd of Melbourne at a cost of $A50 million. WOWIC Industries Pty Ltd of Adelaide supplied the camp to Snam Progetti and other contractors. Design, supply of materials, installation and commissioning of the cathodic protection system on the Moomba Adelaide pipeline was provided by Dimet Cathodic Protection Pty Ltd of Burwood, Victoria.

Pipe laying officially got underway October 24 1968 when the SA Premier Mr Hall turned the first sod and a trenching machine commenced at the Port Wakefield Rd, half a mile north of the Para River. A 300 man camp was established at Mallala for the construction.

Construction progress varied up to five miles a day depending on how far the work was from the camp and the location of the line.

When construction began outside Adelaide, delays were caused by roads, fences and property boundaries, and construction averaged about a mile a day. As construction neared Peterborough, roads and fences were fewer and terrain became quite flat, leaving behind the out cropping of rock encountered in the Auburn/Clare area. North of Peterborough, travelling in the bulldust caused many problems and delays.

Despite the problems of bad weather, dust and several industrial stoppages, the construction workers maintained an average progress of better than two miles a day and completed the line within schedule.

The 486 mile natural gas pipeline from Moomba to Adelaide was officially opened by SA Premier Mr Hall, on Friday 28 November 1969.

Santos: in the beginning
In an interview published in the Adelaide Advertiser coinciding with official opening of the Moomba Adelaide pipeline, Santos Chairman Mr John Bonython told how it began.
It all started back in 1953. “Robert Francis Bristowe, whom I had not seen since schooldays came to me with the idea of looking for oil. As a Kings messenger with the British foreign office he had travelled a great deal and he thought that the Flinders Rangers looked like Persia. I was able to reply that my great uncle told me that when oil was discovered in South Australia it would be under the Great Artesian basin,” said Mr Bonython.
“Bristowe and I went off to the public library to study oil geology. It was soon obvious we did not know much about geology. We got help from Dr Glaessner and Mr Reg Sprigg. I studied the Mining Petroleum Act and got Bristowe to apply for an exploration licence with me acting as the necessary guarantor.
“We formed Santos in March 1954. There was a large measure of State patriotism in the formation of Santos – we were going to look for oil for South Australia in South Australia. In the early days, we hoped to find petroleum and we were thinking of oil. No one pretends we are not delighted to have found natural gas, but I should still like to find oil – oil in commercial quantities.
“But SA must have natural gas not to give us an advantage over other states but to keep up with other states.”
Then there was the matter of a name for the company. At that time Mr Bonython still had the piece of paper on which he and Bristowe toyed with the various suggestions. Sir Douglas Mawson the famous geologist had thought they should take an interest in the Northern Territory so they thought of South Australia Northern Territory Oil Search (SANTOS).
The first directors were John Bonython – Chairman, Mr Bristowe, Sir Henry Newland and Sir Douglas Mawson. Before the first public issue Sir Douglas Mawson retired on account of health and as succeeded by Major G N Symes.
And so Santos was underway, leading to the construction of the Moomba -Adelaide gas pipeline which in turn led to the large gas and liquids pipeline system that exists in South Australia today.

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