Thailand based petroleum operator PTTEP Australasia has been
fined $510,000 (Australian dollars) in relation to the Montara
wellhead platform blowout on 21 August 2009. The blowout, which
occurred in the Timor Sea off the northern cost of Western
Australia, resulted in an oil spill spanning 90,000 square
kilometres and lasting 74 days. PTTEP Australasia pled guilty to
the charges against it in the Northern Territory Magistrate's
Court in Darwin, which consisted of three occupational health and
safety violations and one non-occupational health and safety
charge. Whilst there were no fatalities or casualties resulting
from the incident, the risk of such an occurrence arising as a
result of inadequate safety procedures is targeted by Australian
health and safety laws.
The successful prosecution is the first for Australian petroleum
regulator, NOPSEMA, under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas
Storage Act 2006. The occupational health and safety offences
charged under this Act consisted of failures by PTTEP Australasia
to verify barriers in the well. This increased the risk of
hydrocarbon release, resulting in the wellhead platform being
unsafe for those at or near the facility. The non-occupational
health and safety offence resulted from a failure by PTTEP
Australasia to carry out operations in a proper and workman-like
manner and in accordance with good oilfield practice.
According to a statement from NOPSEMA the regulator is
considering options for appeal against the levels of the fines,
which are deemed to be relatively low. The company had faced
maximum fine levels of $1.7 million (Australian dollars).
NOPSEMA CEO, Jane Cutler, said "Our priority is to ensure that
operators are effectively managing risks to the health and safety
of workers on offshore petroleum facilities to a level that is as
low as reasonably practicable. NOPSEMA is prepared to dedicate
significant time and effort to prosecute petroleum facility
operators who have breached the OPGGSA and associated
The chief executive of PTTEP Australasia, Ken Fitzpatrick, said
the company had always accepted responsibility and had taken steps
to improve their operations to ensure that their mistakes would
never be repeated. Following the incident, development drilling at
the site has since continued and it is anticipated that production
will commence in December 2012.
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