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Esso looking to cut corners in Bass Strait Decommissioning

September 16, 2022

Esso’s planned approach to the decommissioning of several Bass Strait offshore oil and gas platforms will allow it to walk away and leave the community bearing the brunt of the subsequent economic and environmental fallout.

Esso wants to cut off the Halibut, Fortescue, Cobia, Mackerel, Kingfish A, Kingfish B, West Kingfish, and Flounder oil rigs’ steel jackets at 55m below sea level.

Given that these facilities are located offshore at depths of between 73m and 93m, this will leave very large structures between 18m and 38m tall on the seafloor to deteriorate, and then inevitably collapse.

Esso also wants to leave stubs of up to 5m high at the Bream A and Whiting platforms, which are in shallower water.

AWU Victorian Branch Secretary Ben Davis said that after making billions in profit from its Bass Strait facilities since 1969, including $71 billion in the past seven years alone, Esso wanted to wriggle out of a proper cleanup.

“Esso was warned in 2021 to comply with its obligations for proper maintenance and removal of its Bass Strait infrastructure” Mr Davis said.

“It has now proposed to the regulator to walk away and leave parts of that infrastructure in place for hundreds of years to deteriorate. Who does that benefit except Esso?”

The AWU submission points out that the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act requires all property and infrastructure to be properly maintained and then removed when no longer used.

“Complete removal is the standard, and Esso has not made an adequate case for a deviation from these removal requirements,” Mr Davis said.

“Esso has also indicated that it is considering dumping dismantled materials at sea. This should not even be considered.”

Mr Davis said leaving infrastructure in place would result in significant cost savings for Esso and its business partner Woodside, but this should not be a consideration.

“Cost savings for the owners cannot be used to defeat other interests such as those of workers, the community and the environment.

“Full removal will obviously have better outcomes for the environment, and AWU members have the capacity to complete the work. It’s hard to see a downside.

“NOPSEMA should require nothing short of full removal of the structures by Esso.”

Esso is no stranger to ignoring the interests of workers and the community and acting aggressively in its self-interest.

The enterprise agreement covering its employees working in Bass Strait is now in its eleventh year of life, with the employees covered not having no guaranteed wage increases for eight years.

Negotiations commenced to replace the 2011 enterprise agreement in 2014. In 2015, AWU members began engaging in protected industrial action. In March 2015, Esso successfully applied for orders from the Fair Work Commission to stop industrial action.

Shortly after, Esso applied to the Federal Court, asking the court to find that the AWU could not engage in any further protected industrial action. The Court rejected Esso’s claim. Esso appealed this decision to a Full Court of the Federal Court, only to be rejected again.


Undeterred in its mission to prevent AWU members from exercising their right to withdraw their labour and to pressure the AWU by seeking exorbitant compensation, Esso applied for special leave to the High Court of Australia. In December 2017, the High Court found in favour of Esso, effectively banning AWU members from taking any future protected industrial action to further their bargaining claims.

In 2016, in a move designed to further intimidate workers, Esso applied to have the 2011 enterprise agreement terminated, and as a result put its employees back on to Award conditions, which are significantly inferior to the conditions in the enterprise agreement and conditions in the industry generally. The AWU opposed the application and ultimately Esso did not succeed, but many other employers have successfully engaged in this intimidation tactic.


Despite best efforts from AWU officials and members, the 2011 enterprise agreement remains in place almost seven years since its nominal expiry.

“Nowhere more than the industrial relations space have we seen the incredible disregard that Esso has for workers and the community. This is a company that has made billions of dollars from its operations in Australian waters, and now it wants to abandon infrastructure and dump materials at sea to save money?” says Mr Davis.

“If there is one company that should be held accountable for its responsibilities to the Australian people and the environment, it’s Esso. Full removal and mediation, with recycling of materials in Australia is a must, as this will provide jobs for Australians for years to come.

“Esso’s self-interest has left an ugly scar on the industrial relations landscape in Australia. It cannot be allowed to do so in decommissioning.”

“Esso’s actions in negotiating with the AWU are both reprehensible and a case study of why the laws in relation to bargaining must be changed. Employers must not be able to prevent union members from taking industrial action indefinitely or threaten workers with an enterprise agreement termination as a bargaining tactic.”

The AWU fears that if Esso’s proposal to cut corners and save money is approved by NOPSEMA, Esso will subsequently surrender its petroleum licences, leaving any problems for the Victorian and Federal Governments and future generations of Australians.

The union’s submission says NOPSEMA must force Esso to think again, and provide a plan that cuts the steel jackets flush with the seabed, and transfers all dismantled materials onshore for proper disposal and recycling.

The deadline for removal of the disused offshore oil and gas infrastructure should also be brought forward so that it is complete by 2025.

This is essential to allowing necessary new offshore renewable energy infrastructure to be constructed in this area.

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