The Moomba to Sydney Ethane Pipeline

Constructed in the mid-1990s, the Moomba to Sydney Ethane Pipeline provides a natural Australian resource to Qenos’ petrochemical facility, located in Port Botany, New South Wales. The following is an edited version of an article that appeared in the July 1996 edition of The Australian Pipeliner. Project Manager Norm Bakker described the construction of the Moomba to Sydney Ethane Pipeline.

The Moomba to Sydney Ethane Pipeline project consisted of the design, construction, testing and commissioning of a 1,375 km long, 219 mm diameter high pressure pipeline and associated pump station and facilities to convey ethane from Moomba, located in South Australia, to the Qenos (then ICI Australia owned) petrochemical facility in Port Botany.

The pipeline and pump station were commissioned in 1996, with the first ethane delivered to Port Botany on 15 June “” three months ahead of the nominal schedule.

Up until then, ICI’s plant had used naptha and LPG to make ethylene, propylene and other products. Naptha was either purchased from local oil refineries or imported; LPG came from Bass Strait in Victoria and the Cooper Basin in South Australia.

Ethane was an excellent alternative to naptha and LPG because it represented a natural Australian resource with a secure, long-term supply. It also had significant process and environmental advantages, which reduced the level of carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption.

Lengthy negotiations for a lengthy pipeline

ICI, together with the Cooper Basin producers – represented by Santos, and the Commonwealth Government-owned Pipeline Authority (TPA) – first started talking seriously about the ethane project in late 1991, but it was not until September 1994 that an agreement was formalised between ICI and Santos on the sale of ethane, and between ICI and TPA on the construction of a new pipeline to link the Moomba gas fields to the plant at Port Botany.

Halfway through the lengthy negotiations, most of TPA’s personnel were absorbed by East Australian Pipeline Limited (EAPL), owned by AGL, Nova Corporation of Canada and Petronas.

EAPL was the new owner-operator of the Moomba to Sydney natural gas pipeline.

Nevertheless, it was important at that stage of the ethane pipeline project to maintain TPA’s federal-based environmental, easement acquisition and pipeline construction powers and in a third agreement between ICI, TPA and EAPL, the latter, with most of the people and skills (augmented by those of its new owners), took on the role of engineer managers on behalf of TPA for the pipeline’s owners, ICI.

Three spreads

The ethane pipeline shares the existing 24 m easement over most of its length with the Moomba to Sydney Gas Pipeline. However, the last 40 km required a new route to be found through the Sydney metropolitan area, which required considerable environmental planning and engineering effort before construction could commence. Sydney consulting firm CMPS&F did a lot of this early work.

Pipeline construction commenced in late February 1995 with Flectcher Construction of Australia undertaking first work on the 1,034 km Moomba to Young spread.

Transfield Construction welded out on the 300 km Young to Leppington spread just before Christmas 1995.

Welding out of main line construction occurred at Botany in March 1996 when the Nissho Iwai, Jasdell, PCA joint venture finished the 41 km Leppington to Botany spread.

The final construction activity, in a practical sense was completed when the last directionally drilled crossing under the Nepean River and the F5 Freeway was completed near Wilton on the outskirts of Sydney. Final tie-in weld to the Nepean crossing was completed on 8 June 1996.

Mainline construction in the open plains of New South Wales had proceeded at up to 6 km per day, but the rate of progress slowed as the terrain got more difficult, from Young toward Sydney.

Machine padding was employed with good results in the outback areas, but with less success in the wetter eastern regions. For cost reasons, it was decided not to internally line the pipe. Because of this, achieving the required standard of cleanliness and drying of the pipeline presented a major challenge, particularly given that the dew point specification for the ethane is -60 degrees Celsius. The decision was vindicated, but not without some anxious moments.

A two-unit pump station with Waukesha gas engine drivers and 300 kW Thomson Kelly and Lewis pumps was constructed at Bulla Park, west of Cobar, to boost the capacity of the pipeline to 350,000 t.

HDD navigates the urban jungle

The final spread through the Sydney area was particularly challenging. The pipeline route through the Sydney metropolitan area followed established road and rail corridors, principally along the East Hills railway line to Arncliffe. The pipeline then passes through the Kogarah Golf Course, under Cooks River and Sydney Airport, relying on several crossings – using horizontal directional drilling (HDD) – including one under the main runway.

HDD played a large part in this project, overcoming some significant environmental and physical barriers. Indeed, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to construct the pipeline if this technique was not available. All in all, 24 crossings were completed using two HDD contractors,
AJ Lucas and Cherrington.

Kevin Lester supervised the HDD program for AJ Lucas.

AJ Lucas subsidiary International Pipeline Services was also involved in the construction of the pipeline, subcontracted to Transfield for the hydrostatic testing of the third spread.

Cherrington drilled three crossings; two of which – the Cataract River Gorge and the Nepean River-F5 Freeway crossings – were considered to be the most challenging HDD crossings on the pipeline route.


The project ran to budget with a capital cost of just under $200 million. At the height of construction, over 600 hundred people were employed by more than 30 contractors, consultants, TPA, EAPL and ICI.

The workers on the Moomba to Sydney Ethane Pipeline were commended for their hard work and skill, particularly those subject to the dust and harsh climate of the Australian outback. While the project tragically suffered two fatalities (one a road accident, the other during drying activities near Moomba), the overall safety record had been good.

In paying tribute to the workers, then AGL Pipelines New South Wales General Manager Jim McDonald said “The sweet satisfaction of a job well done – and the ethane project was just that – has been soured for me and for the people who work for me, as a result of these fatalities.”

Ethane is a volatile substance with properties between LPG and natural gas and needless to say, pipeline integrity – particularly in the metropolitan areas – had to be of the highest standards.

Norm Bakker reflects on his experience managing the Moomba to Sydney Ethane Pipeline project as a positive one.

“This project brought together two quite different cultures: EAPL’s gung-ho Pipeliner with a “˜head for the horizon’ approach; and, ICI’s sedentary, but complex industrial plant operator. Both cultures had their place at times and helped with the professionalism available in the Australian pipeline industry to achieve a successful outcome to the project,” he said.

Moomba to Sydney Ethane Pipeline statistics
Capacity: Averages 275,000 t/a of ethane Depth of burial: 900 – 1,800 mm Pipe: Supplied by Tubemakers of Australia Wall thickness: Ranges from 5.2 – 11.9 mm Steel grade: Between X52 and X65 Coating: Shaw Yellow Jacket with fusion bonded epoxy used in temperature sensitive areas. The polyethylene for the Yellow Jacket was sourced from Canada.

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