Chris Cain AFR Opinion Article: Chevron To Blame For Costs Blowout

In a pre-Christmas confession, Chevron admitted the Gorgon project is over time and billions of dollars over budget. Insiders say it’s closer to three times what Chevron says publicly. It’s time to talk about what’s been done wrong and what needs to be fixed.

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[Picture: WA Branch Secretary, Chris Cain]  

When Chevron comes to this country, tries to avoid paying Aussies proper rates, risks their lives on unsafe sites, then blames their workers, we’ve got a right to take offence. If someone came to your Australia Day barbecue, poisoned the sausages, upset the kids, and then blamed your brother, they wouldn’t be invited again. Chevron’s behaviour has been far worse.

After years of disputes it’s time for Chevron HQ in California or the Australian federal government to intervene. We’ve been trying to get this project working for years. Chevron has an 84-hour working week for seafarers and still demands more. Australia’s economy is more important than the injured pride of Chevron’s middle management.

Management of the Barrow Island oil and gas project is like a 1970s council job. If a worker needs a bolt, they can’t just pick one up, they need to fill out forms, have a designated engineer assess the need, and then restart the job. If the engineer is assessing someone else’s bolt, they wait – sometimes a whole day. When the simplest of things takes a day, it’s obvious how Chevron has lost months and billions of dollars.

On any normal project, workers pick up their safety glasses from the site store. There is usually a choice and workers take the best fit. Not on the Chevron project. The geniuses in the HSE department have decided workers are unable to make complex decisions about which safety glasses fit them. A “safety glasses technician” spends several minutes with each worker discussing the intricacies of various brands of glasses and which would best fit the particular shape of head owned by that particular worker.

It sounds like a Monty Python movie, but this is resource construction, the Chevron way.

Chevron is quick to blame MUA members for delays getting materials onto the island, but the issue on the dock is not how fast we load it but that the materials often aren’t there. Stowage plans are often missing, or the cargo that’s supposed to be loaded doesn’t turn up. Most barges and vessels leave the wharf without their full loads. This has happened every week for nearly three years.

The difficulties contractors have in getting qualified and available workers to the Gorgon project are legendary. It takes up to seven weeks after a contractor decides to employ someone to get Chevron’s approval. This isn’t paid time, and people with skills and a willingness to travel often get another job first.

With over 4000 people on this project, it’s incredible that not a day of productivity has been lost to strikes. That’s because unions want this job to work. I’m hoping Chevron has taken time over the summer to reflect and take a fresh approach, stop fighting Aussie workers, stop talking down the Australian economy and get on with building the resource sector. I’ll keep my phone on – for the WA economy’s sake, I hope they call.

[Originally published in the Australian Financial Review, 13 February 2013]