Gas fields of plenty


Long before mobile phones, Google, 3D modelling and the resources “boom”, a bunch of determined engineers with unprecedented vision set out to turn an isolated, frontier area of Australia into an internationally significant industry hub.

Not only were their ambitions fulfilled but their legacy continues to shape Australia’s energy future. And now their ground-breaking engineering achievements that emerged in the pioneering development stage have been recognised by Engineers Australia, the body representative of more than 100,000 engineers across the country.

Engineers Australia awarded the North West Shelf (NWS) Project Phases 1 and 2 with its Engineering Heritage International Marker. “The project has special international significance,” said James Westcott, president of Engineers Australia’s WA branch. And Mr Westcott, who presented the award to representatives of the NWS participants in Karratha in August, told attendees at the award ceremony that it was “the first oil and gas project awarded in a program that has been going since 1984”.

The international marker is the highest category for the award and places the NWS Project into a peer group with the iconic Snowy Mountains Scheme, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme. During the initial construction phase in the 1980s, it was the largest engineering project underway worldwide in the oil and gas industry, and the largest single non-government project ever undertaken in Australian history.

Brian Haggerty, vice president innovation and capability, was one of the Woodsiders who attended the ceremony. “I remember standing on the beach, putting my foot in the sand, and saying the ‘pipe will come through here’,” he recalled. The Burrup Peninsula was then remote, rocky and undeveloped.

Many thousands of people contributed to the development of the NWS Project and Brad Russell-Lane, vice president Australia Business, paid tribute to them on receiving the award on behalf of the NWS participants. “It’s a project that built Australia’s reputation for reliable LNG supply, establishing a lot of firsts,” said Brad, who once worked as a graduate on the North West Shelf developments. “It is the relentless pursuit in the face of challenge that defined and continues to define the Project.”

The list of firsts that Brad mentioned is impressive. It includes the largest capacity offshore gas and condensate platform in the world at the time, and North Rankin continues to be one of the world’s largest. Other firsts represented innovations and significant step-outs from then global practice, such as converting from traditional water cooled to air-cooled LNG plant design. That innovation both improved the project’s capital costs and environmental footprint.

“The NWS brought a new dimension to industry in the Pilbara,” said Kevin Michel, the State Member of Parliament for the Pilbara. Mr Michel congratulated the NWS Project on “reaching beyond the region, and creating many, many jobs”.

It is estimated that the NWS Project directly injects more than $900 million a year directly into the nation’s economy, through a combination of its expenditures and taxes contributed. The NWS participants commended the impressive pioneering spirit to undertake this project at the infancy of computer power and in the vast remoteness of Australia’s north west.

Required to operate in a wide range of weather conditions with a high level of safety and reliability, the project utilised leading edge international technology and engineering practice in design and construction. It was just new,” said Brian. “By just going out and doing it, we created a huge business.”

Clearly proud of the achievements that the award recognises, Brian strongly encourages everyone to take inspiration from the past but also to look forward. “The world’s changing quickly and we can take advantage of it,” he says.

A plaque commemorating the “Gas Fields of Plenty” award was unveiled at the NWS Visitors Centre at the Burrup. There it will testify these great engineering achievements and perhaps inspire the hundreds of daily visitors, young and old.


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