The list of major pipeline projects that have either commenced construction or made it past the final investment decision hurdle is growing and includes the QCLNG, GLNG, Gorgon, QSN3 and PNG LNG projects. There are also several smaller projects underway and a few more major projects that look like they will get over the line such as the APLNG, Arrow LNG, Browse LNG and Ichthys developments.
Looking at credible industry predictions, a total of over $5 billion is set to be spent in Australia between now and 2015 to bring over 5,000 km of new pipelines online. All of the investment in Australia is expected to be made in gas pipelines and this does not include the estimated 20,000 km of polyethylene gathering systems. Even the Australian Government is recognising this with Federal Resources and Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson saying that his department is dealing with “a pipeline of investment which is beyond belief”.
Clearly the industry is moving into another boom time, which is good news to many but will bring its own set of challenges that will need to be carefully addressed. Two of the main challenges are skills shortages and safety.
There is already some effort going on to address the pending skills shortages, but it is unlikely to be sufficient. Energy Skills Queensland has prepared strategies for the CSG to LNG industry in Queensland involving training indigenous and unemployed workers. There is an article in this edition covering the Australian Government’s $200 million Critical Skills Investment Fund to train an estimated 39,000 skilled workers over four years and also the EE-Oz national gas training package, which is available for the pipeline industry. APIA is progressing the roll-out of the Pipeline Engineering Training Program and the Energy Pipelines Co-operative Research Centre has nearly completed a scoping study for their education program.
Despite all of these initiatives, we are seeing a lot of the pipeline work on offer going overseas. This is not only due to the skills shortages, it is exacerbated by the strong Australian dollar making pipeline and other energy industry personnel some of the highest paid in the world. This may be good short-term news for those already in the game but not so good in the longer term with cost conscious companies awarding more work to overseas companies. Recent examples include the Gorgon project and the GLNG project.
With the burgeoning LNG industry, there has been a tendency to procure pipe from overseas mainly because the demand has been outside the size range that can be produced in Australia but there is also an increasing tendency to buy low cost pipe from countries such as India and China that traditionally have not supplied into Australia. APIA is concerned about quality issues and their potential long term impact on our good pipeline safety record in Australia; hence the Association is investigating ways in which we can tighten up the pipe quality requirements.
Another threat to safety in our industry revolves around the provision of adequate training and supervision for new pipeliners that have joined the industry to meet the skills shortage, and also for overseas experienced pipeliners that may have traditionally operated under a different safety culture. APIA and the industry need to confront this looming issue head on and be proactive about the solutions that need to be put in place.
APIA has recently decided to restructure our Safety Committee, expanding it to the Health, Safety and Environment Committee. The Committee is very active and has a number of initiatives in the “˜pipeline’. These include a drug and alcohol policy industry survey and further work in onsite worker fatigue management.
Boom times are positive for the pipeline industry but APIA, and the members we represent, need to be proactive in our management of the looming skills shortage to maintain our excellent safety track record.