Decommissioning Update, July 2023

Published: 12 Jul 2023

MUA Just Transition Update: Decommissioning July 2023

This is our third update regarding Just Transition opportunities that are in the works for our membership.

This latest newsletter highlights work that our members are doing right now to help decommission Esso infrastructure in the Gippsland Basin as well as ever-larger projects on the cusp of commencement.

This is our second update to you regarding just transition opportunities that are in the works for our membership.

Missed our last just transition decommissioning update? You can find it here.

Message from Adrian Evans, Assistant National Secretary:

Welcome to our third ‘Just Transition’ instalment!

This is where you’ll find project details emerging from both offshore renewable energy and the decommissioning of retired oil and gas fields, also news about our behind-the-scenes work with government departments and the regulator.

Staying current with this news will help the MUA continue its strong campaign to ensure these jobs are filled with our members, so be sure to raise this report onboard and share widely.

I would like to take the opportunity to welcome our newly appointed decommissioning policy analyst, Newcastle member Angie Moore who has hit the ground running since taking over from Emma Cain in May.

If you have any pics or info on decommissioning, please reach out to Angie at

MUA Jobs - A Retired Field is just the start

Offshore energy work ebbs and flows depending on the lifecycle of projects. Looking to what contracts are on the horizon prepares us to crew these demands.

Oil and gas decommissioning work is ramping up; here is a snapshot of projected work opportunities and those underway:

Already on the job!

Members onboard the Skandi Darwin (DOF Subsea multipurpose support vessel) are working on Esso’s Gippsland Basin decommissioning campaign.

Esso recently informed us that DOF is engaged for 3 years of Esso’s decommissioning work.

This ship is part of a growing fleet that needs our seafarers to support it, including Rig 22, and the HWT600, being joined at the end of this year by the Helix Q7000.

Oilfield contractor Petrofac is using the Skandi Atlantic right now for an initial 12 month contract, to support its decommissioning and disconnecting work for the Northern Endeavour floating production, storage and offtake (FPSO) vessel located in the Timor Sea.

Off the Victorian coast (Otway Basin) scheduled for a mid 2024 start, is Woodside’s removal of their Minvera field infrastructure. This will need a semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU), a multipurpose ship, several offshore support and supply vessels.

Woodside’s current oil and gas decommissioning projects at Enfield (Nganhurra RTM), Griffin, Stybarrow, and Echo/Yodel will be the largest of its kind undertaken on Australia’s coast.

Since the last update, Woodside Energy has awarded all its major contracts with the expectation they will get the go ahead from NOPSEMA to start by the end of 2023. A range of contractors are in the mix including Heerema, McDermott, Fugro, DOF and McMahon and will include an array of vessels such as supply, anchor handling tugs, construction support vessels, and a heavy lift to be operating in the field.

Technip FMC’s Deep Orient is set to work the Griffin Field (8-months) and Transocean has the contract to undertake the permanent plug and abandonment of wells in the Stybarrow field (14-months). The operations will cover removal and disposal of riser and turret moorings, umbilicals, flowlines and other subsea infrastructure.

The table displays decommissioning work which has already been approved by NOPSEMA, to take place in the next 5 years. As more approvals are completed, more projects will be added to this list.

Offshore Wind Outlook

The number and location of projects keeps growing, with the government at various stages of declaring areas for offshore wind off Gippsland in Victoria, off the Hunter and Central Coast in NSW, and off Portland Victoria and stretching into South Australia. The Illawarra and southwestern WA will be next. The earliest projects in Victoria are likely to start construction in 2027, and new harbour facilities to host construction will be needed before then.

A new project tracker for offshore wind has been launched

This tracker shows that companies are seeking to develop a massive total of 102 Gigawatts of offshore renewable energy in Australia. Even if only 30 GW is built, research from the US shows that this will require 37 large vessels and 58 smaller crew transfer vessels.

In Australia, the consistent rough seas off our southern coasts means fewer crew transfer vessels will be used for maintenance, and more maintenance will be done from larger service operations vessels.

Many types used during the construction and operations of an offshore wind farm have previously worked in Australian waters. Such as:

  • Transfer & Service operation vessels
  • Survey vessels
  • Heavy lift vessels
  • Jack up barges / installation vessels
  • Fall pipe vessels
  • Offshore support vessels
  • Cable lay vessels
  • Multipurpose support vessels
  • Accommodation support vessels
  • Anchor handlers / tug supply vessels

Southern Ocean offshore wind zone consultation start

Energy Minister Chris Bowen announced the opening of community consultation on another offshore renewable energy zone that will stretch from Warrnambool, Victoria to Port MacDonnell, South Australia.

The proposal is for a 5,100 square kilometre area that will take in the Victorian city of Portland, which is home to one of Australia’s largest smelters and draws up to 10 percent of Victoria’s electricity. According to Federal Government analysis, this region has the capacity to support 14 GW off offshore wind projects. Based on international workforce size, this will create thousands of new jobs for our members.

The consultation period for the Southern Ocean offshore renewable energy zone runs until the end of August, and it is expected that the zone will be declared later this year. After the declaration is made individual developers can apply for a licence within the declared area.

Offshore work already started on our first offshore wind project – Star of the South

The Fugro Mariner was engaged in April by Australia’s first offshore wind project, Star of the South.

The vessel was engaged to do geotechnical surveys to ensure the wind turbine foundations are designed to suit local seabed conditions.

MUA members on this vessel are the first to work on an offshore wind project in Australia, an important milestone for our members in the development of offshore renewable energy in Australia.

The MUA crew were employed by AOS and covered by an MUA offshore oil and gas agreement. The union was notified about the vessel coming on the coast and visited the crew in Fremantle. The vessel was also inspected as per union requirements.

An offshore wind ready workforce

Industry relevant certificates are an important part of maritime safety culture, as well as our members having an appreciation for the remote nature and extreme conditions of working in the Australian offshore industry. MUA members' skills and qualifications are transferrable to the new offshore wind industry.

Required tickets include:

  • Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training (BOSIET)
  • Maritime Security Identification Cards (MSIC)
  • Construction industry white cards
  • Dogging and rigging certifications
  • First aid qualifications
  • Oil and gas medicals
  • Integrated Rating
  • Marine Cook.

There may also be some new add on certifications and qualifications for seafarers as the regulators assess this new work in offshore wind energy generation. We will aim to keep you posted on these requirements as the sector develops.

The Union is lobbying to ensure that the qualifications are adequate and that the VET sector is ready to accommodate the training required to ensure we have enough Australian Seafarers to crew the offshore wind construction and related vessels as the renewable sector ramps up.

Securing union agreements in offshore wind

The MUA is systematically going through offshore wind developers to get MOUs signed with them to commit to union agreements, Australian crew and local procurement.

This is an important step in securing the work for our members across the entire Maritime scope.

Decommissioning policy levers and Decision Makers – Where it’s at

It’s great news to have these decommissioning projects coming our way, but remember, this work was kicked off by the regulator handing out enforcement directions, ordering titleholders to finish the job. So while it’s encouraging to see Woodside’s latest efforts, there is more work to be done to ensure operators toe the line.

We previously reported our communication with the Environment Minister’s office to highlight the flaws in the Sea Dumping Act (read here). This key piece of legislation is currently before a Senate Committee which we hope will be an avenue for us to provide further scrutiny and achieve reforms.

We've reached out to the Resources Minister detailing the improvements needed to bring the Offshore Petroleum Greenhouse Gas Storage Act (OPGGS Act) up to scratch and fit for purpose. (Check it out here)

The MUA is ready to help shape the government’s Decommissioning Roadmap having prepared a raft of improvements. To support these efforts, we have teamed up with Macquarie Uni and the Centre for Energy & Natural Resources, Innovation & Transformation. Two reports have been commissioned to outline the best practices for decommissioning aimed at the interests of workers, community and environment. This evidence base will help inform a public campaign and influence legislators to provide strong outcomes for Aussie workers.

We are putting our reforms on the national agenda by moving a new section on decommissioning in the ALP's policy platform that will be debated at the ALP National Conference in August.

Fighting for strong decommissioning frameworks will result in more jobs for our members!

The planning underway gives a positive outlook for decommissioning activities. The Centre of Decommissioning Australia's (CODA) roadmap report summarises industry's ‘lessons learnt’ with a renewed focus on planning early, consolidating efforts between companies and looking to build capacity to service the broader Asia-Pacific region.

$22 million before any major work has even commenced, dedicated to planning and getting this right.

The $60 billion offshore decommissioning opportunity for Australian isn’t lost on the state and federal governments with nearly $10 million this year for the Centre of Decommissioning Australia (CODA) recycling hub scoping study to be released this month, as well as the Resources Department decommissioning industry ‘Roadmap’ intended to define a coordinated process to manage the massive undertaking.

In addition to this, the government has also allocated $12 million to assess how to improve the frameworks currently in place for the management and oversight of offshore oil & gas activities.

The MUA must continue our involvement in this process to steer industry and government towards strong local outcomes. Here’s why:

Work done by the MUA has revealed the extent that industry is going to for cost saving measures. By attending the last two Decommissioning and Abandonment conferences held in Australia we have witnessed companies intent on finding a way to deviate from full removal requirements, with their focus on achieving efficiencies through automation, ‘streamlining’, and dumping material at sea.

Actions by industry include:

  • Transferal of titles e.g. recreational fishers for dumping the Nganhurra RTM, & the Northern Endeavour to a sham business.
  • Commissioning millions of dollars’ worth of research to prop up unsubstantiated claims 

    of environmental benefits (but do not publish full scientific findings)
  • Construction of an artificial reef for $1 million, just off Exmouth to demonstrate the 

    benefits of dumped rigs for fish. (Thankfully ‘King Reef’ wasn’t constructed using old hydrocarbon equipment, and plastic flowlines – rather, purpose built modules)
  • Proposals to reuse aging structures for Carbon Capture & Storage.

  • Not maintaining equipment it to claim it is ‘unsafe’ to remove.

These tactics haven’t been working for companies thanks to NOPSEMA’s new approach to regulating the industry - compelling operators to act by applying formal Directions. This is turning out to be an expensive exercise for companies who face huge bills to remove dilapidated RTM’s such as the Nganhurra RTM, Griffin RTM and in the case of the attempted hand-off of the Northern Endeavour, where full costs will be covered by the legislated industry levy of 48c per barrel.

Field Monitoring and maintenance work

To drive home the importance of routinely checking and maintaining disused wells, we highlight the issues plaguing the Legendre Field.

It was recently brought to our attention that Santos had ownership of 26 wells that have been leaking for the past decade. There is a considerable amount of coverage on this in media outlets since the scandal broke and public concern is justified.

While this case of uncontrolled hydrocarbon emissions is serious, the lack of motivation to rectify the issue is damning. Part of the solution already exists in that legislative measures (trailing liability) are in place to ensure companies are required to cover the cost of maintaining and repairing well integrity, however there is no way of evaluating if this is required.

The MUA believes that plugged and abandoned wells must be monitored by an independent agency who can ensure that titleholders carry out their responsibilities.

Esso aren’t being strait

Esso have upped the ante with their recent (and third) attempt at applying for permission to dump 8 subsea platform structures in the Bass Straight. The company have responded to our submission by disregarding all our concerns. Esso’s published reply states that on meeting with us, our queries were addressed, but we can assure you, they were not. Despite this, we will continue to strive to engage with Esso to share the workforce’s valuable industry insights (as this is the point of consultation) to assist them in their decommissioning campaigns.

In the March update, we highlighted the lack of transparency of their evidence used to claim that marine life will enjoy using their dumping ground as artificial reefs. The source is research they have paid for and is still not publicly available despite our requests. Their reply was that there was no obligation for them to publicly share their data. This stance is unreasonable and we will pursue alternate avenues to obtain it.

If their deviation from full removal is granted this will set a bad precedent for other companies to do so. The MUA is calling on NOPSEMA and the relevant Ministers to reject the proposal and continue to engage with Esso to require full decommissioning.

Northern Endeavour continued…

As the federal government moves forward with phase 1 of decommissioning the FPSO, the MUA raised many concerning flaws in the Department of Industry Science and Resources’ plan. The questionable safety and environmental standards that we picked up have been disregarded for two reasons: DISR as the responsible party, cherry picked less stringent legislation (EPBC Act) to adhere to for its consultation requirements, and secondly, the fate of the ship will be entirely in the hands of the creditor who has ultimate control of the vessel once handed over in the field.

The department consider that offloading the FPSO to a creditor relieves them of responsibility for such a significant undertaking. This stance isn’t acceptable and the MUA will continue to pursue all avenues until a satisfactory outcome is achieved. This includes the provision of a riding crew for the tow, to professionally monitor the vessel's seaworthiness en route. At the brink of a large-scale decommissioning effort, we need to make sure that the first key projects are completed to world best practice.

Getting Consultation Right

We all deserve thorough and meaningful consultation when development activities impact us.

The landmark Santos Barossa ruling last December has resulted in companies reconsidering whether the MUA as a ‘relevant person’ for consultation purposes after initially ignoring our notification. The key outcome of the Barossa ruling was that companies must take the time to ensure ‘genuine and rigorous’ consultation with First Nations, which was previously not happening at all.

Following this critical ruling, NOPSEMA instructed all title holders to ensure they have consulted with all relevant persons, before resubmitting their environmental plans (EPs) for their decommissioning scope. We understand that this has delayed current decommissioning plans by about 6 months. This means that companies are now coming to us to talk about their planned decommissioning activities, and we have an early opportunity for input that should result in more jobs for MUA members.

This will be included as part of the Resources department regulatory review slated to commence shortly.

The MUA is prepared for the ongoing fight on several fronts, for quality, safe, and well-paid work in offshore activities.

2023 is a turning point to set up for even more offshore work for years to come. Stay tuned and stay active to help get this done.

To see more information on future decommissioning or offshore wind projects and our broader campaigning, head to the MUA website. If you have any questions about decommissioning, feel free to contact our Policy Analyst Angie Moore on


Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney