Timor Sea Oil Leak Provides Stark Warning for the Importance of Asset Integrity

Oil & Gas IQ

Since August 21st, the West Atlas drilling platform owned by Thailand's PTTEP Australasia in the Montara field, just a few hundred kilometres off the coast of North-Western Australia, has been leaking around 400 barrels of oil and gas every day.

The cost of attempts to deal with the disaster, including four separate attempts to plug the leak and efforts to clean up the waters has already hit $5.3 million (AUD). According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, PTTEP has so far repaid almost $4 million, but stated that the projected figures did not cover future operations, potential costs and damages to local industries such as fishery and tourism, or the long-term marine environmental damage.

Spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said, "This backs the growing calls for oil and gas operators to be required to contribute to a trust fund and improved insurance arrangements."


Fishermen in Indonesia have claimed that the slick has eradicated thousands of fish and contaminated others which have in turn made villagers ill. Others have expressed serious fears for the health of endangered species, such as turtles, dolphins and whales.

The leak, which is one of the worst Australia has ever experienced, offers a strong caution about the importance of asset integrity on platforms worldwide. Amid today’s economic difficulties, governments and businesses are in poor position to deal with such crises.

Although standard assets are not built to last for 30 years, many require at least another decade of future use as energy resources make the gradual switch from carbon to renewable fuel. This feat alone presents a multitude of challenges to oil and gas firms, though progress has been made in recent years on the UK Continental Shelf.

The Key Programme 3 Review, commissioned by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and released last July by HSE indicated that a raised awareness of the issues at hand had encouraged improvement in safety culture, communication, leadership and general maintenance, but suggested that further enhancements in these areas and others, such as the effectiveness of critical alert systems and safety committees, could and must be made.

Anxiety has increased for North Sea operators with recent news that a plea to the UK Treasury for tax cuts for the offshore industry to incentivise production has been dismissed. It is feared that platforms, pipelines and infrastructure will fall into disrepair as a result, and 50,000 jobs lie at risk. If the industry hopes to avoid its own national calamity, wide discussion and open sharing is paramount to forming some rapid solutions.