Fifth security incident revealed on Varanus Island off the coast of WA

Details of the fifth issue on Varanus Island in less than two years have been documented in a WorkSafe notice to Santos that has been on display on Varanus Island for a period and is obtained from this legal notice.

The cascade of troubles began in mid-2021 when two workers lost their lives when the disused Sinbad Platform being lifted onto a ship by a crane spun out of control directly overhead. The incident only became public after a shocking video leaked to the media.

A hose filling an oil tanker failed in March 2022, causing a 25,000 liter spill where at least three dead dolphins were found floating shortly after.

An unnamed whistleblower accused Santos of lying when he claimed the incident had no impact on the dolphins in a statement filed in the Senate last week.

“Santos lied to all of us – finding dead dolphins in the middle of an oil spill is no accident,” they said.

“It demonstrates the belief within Santos that they can operate to avoid the public interest through misinformation, backed by a comfortable relationship with regulators and the government.”

Then, in just one month – November 2022 – a staggering three security concerns emerged around the island of Varanus.

The state offshore safety agency NOPSEMA, which covers waters further from shore, ordered an oil rig contracted by Santos to halt drilling in the Spartan field because a device called a blowout preventer, which stops the uncontrolled release of oil or gas, ” was not ready for use”.

The failure of a blowout preventer contributed to the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill that killed 11 oil rig workers.

Ten days after Santos was ordered to halt drilling, bubbles of gas leaking from a leaking pipeline were spotted on the sea surface near an offshore platform that supplies most of the gas processed on Varanus Island. Gas supply in WA was constrained for two months, causing some industrial companies to cut production while some power generators switched to more expensive diesel.

NOPSEMA publicized its response to both incidents, unlike the other three under WorkSafe’s jurisdiction, which only became known when leaked to the media.

WorkSafe, which is part of the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, was asked if Santos was concerned about the state of the processing plant on the island, also operated by Santos, due to the many safety issues surrounding Varanus Island.

DMIRS Deputy Director General Ian Munns said the department had no particular concerns about Santos’ compliance with petroleum security.

WorkSafe was also asked when it last inspected the plant on the island and did not respond.


Munns said the investigation into the Sinbad platform lift is continuing.

“Depending on the results of the investigation, the department may take further action against the site operator,” he said.

Munns said the regulator and the company are working together to ensure safety compliance.

“At this time, DMIRS has no particular concerns about Santos’ petroleum security compliance,” he said.

Santos did not respond to questions.

The Morning Edition Newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Login here. Fifth security incident revealed on Varanus Island off the coast of WA

Brian Lowry

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