Australia’s Woodside Energy Halts $18 Billion Gas Pipeline Installation After Rupture

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Australia’s Woodside Energy Halts $18 Billion Gas Pipeline Installation After Rupture

Castorone pipe layer vessel (© Saipem)
Castorone pipe layer vessel (© Saipem)

Woodside Energy has halted the installation of a critical pipeline for its $18 billion Scarborough gas project after a serious incident ripped a hole in the pipe, WAtoday reported on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. According to the report, the dangerous offshore incident raised safety concerns from unions, prompting an investigation by regulators.

The incident occurred on Monday night off the Pilbara coast when the Castorone, a pipeline installation vessel owned by Saipem, lost control of the pipe, according to an anonymous source. 

This forced the evacuation of workers and caused damage to the pipeline, marking the second serious safety incident involving the Castorone this month.

An underwater camera confirmed the pipeline was ruptured, allowing seawater to flow in. The vessel had previously experienced uncontrolled movement on January 2nd, causing some pipe sections to break and sink, according to another anonymous source.

Brad Gandy, spokesperson for the Offshore Alliance union, accused Woodside and Saipem of taking unacceptable shortcuts on safety, stating that the union had repeatedly raised concerns with both companies and the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) since the project began late last year.

"Woodside must take a more hands-on approach with the Castorone and undertake a complete review of Saipem's health and safety standards and culture," Gandy said, criticizing the companies' "diabolical approach to safety."

NOPSEMA confirmed it was investigating both incidents and declined to comment further. 
Woodside acknowledged the incidents but downplayed their severity, stating they caused no injuries and only "localized damage" to the pipeline, which would be repaired. Saipem echoed this sentiment, emphasizing its commitment to safety.

The Castorone is a specialized pipelay vessel that welds and coats pipes into a continuous line on the seabed. The incident reportedly involved a malfunction of the vessel's dynamic positioning system, causing an unexpected movement that put workers at risk.

The cost of the pipeline installation is unknown, but Saipem previously estimated the combined value of the Scarborough and another pipeline contract at $1.7 billion.

Last week, Woodside reported the Scarborough project was 55% complete and on track for gas exports in 2026. However, the company faced delays due to consultations with Indigenous groups and legal challenges, raising concerns about the project's overall timeline and potential cost implications.

This incident highlights growing concerns about safety standards in the Australian offshore oil and gas industry, with stakeholders demanding thorough investigations and stricter regulations to ensure worker safety and environmental protection.

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