Job cuts across Australia’s gas industry have heightened concerns about maintenance risks on offshore rigs, which unions and environmentalists fear could threaten workers’ safety and the marine environment.
The international petroleum industry has been in the spotlight after a gas leak sparked the underwater “eye of fire” boiling to the surface at Pemex’s Gulf of Mexico and a large blast at a Caspian Sea oil and gas field this week.
Gas companies operating on Western Australia’s North West Shelf and in Bass Strait shed workers in 2020 amid a coronavirus-induced price downturn due to plummeting energy demand, which was driven by travel restrictions. Unions estimate about 3000 jobs were lost.
However, both the unions and Australia’s gas industry peak representative group rejected any comparison with international disasters, arguing Australia’s safety record was better than other developed nations’ gas industries in the UK, Norway and the United States.
“Our industry is strictly regulated by a world-class regulator. Australia has one of the best offshore environmental regulatory frameworks in the world,” said Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association chief executive Andrew McConville.
The Commonwealth regulator on Tuesday issued an industry-wide notice reminding companies their offshore rigs “require robust inspection, maintenance, and repair to control age-related risks”.
Australian Workers Union national secretary Daniel Walton said the industry had experienced “a worrying spate of job losses of late, including in maintenance and safety roles”.
“Such job cuts will often lead to deferred maintenance, which leads to maintenance backlogs – and that’s when the risk of accidents does start rising,” said Mr Walton, whose union is a member of the Offshore Alliance, which includes the Maritime Workers Union.