The PNG LNG Project will develop the Hides, Angore and Juha gas fields, as well as associated gas from the Kutubu, Agogo, Gobe and Moran oil fields. Gas will be transported via more than 700 km of onshore and offshore pipeline to a new two-train, 6.6 MMt/a LNG processing plant, to be located near Port Moresby.
Coffey Environments has been involved with the PNG LNG Project since 2007, when the company was engaged to prepare the project’s environmental impact statement (EIS).
Since completion of the EIS in January 2009, Coffey has been retained by project operator Esso Highlands Ltd (EHL) to:
Support in the development of environmental management plans for the project;
- Execute field surveys and pre-construction survey reports for upstream onshore infrastructure sites such as roads, quarries and camps, as well as for the onshore pipeline alignment;
- Execute marine ecological and water quality surveys in Caution Bay and Omati;
- Support in the development of the project’s biodiversity strategy; and,
- Provide ongoing environmental monitoring .
At the peak of pre-construction surveying and report production, Coffey had a team in excess of 30 staff working on the project. One of these staff was Will Wettenhall, who has been involved in the project since May 2010.
Overcoming the communication barrier
Will’s work has primarily focused on the execution of pre-construction field surveys and the preparation of pre-construction survey reports for the onshore infrastructure sites.
“Stakeholder engagement – including survey pre-awareness and landowner identification – for the pre-construction surveys was key to our work, and always undertaken by the project’s land and community affairs (L&CA) team,” he says.
EHL’s L&CA team is the group responsible for consulting with the local communities, establishing survey pre-awareness, identifying the appropriate landowners and community representatives, and communicating and addressing their concerns.
Will says that L&CA officers are often locals from the area, and that an L&CA representative accompanies all Coffey survey teams during field work.
“Communication with the local landowners and obtaining the required information was a significant factor in ensuring the success of pre-construction surveys,” says Will.
“With the assistance of the project’s L&CA team, and a competent team of specialist sub-consultants – some of whom speak Tok Pisin, an official PNG language – the challenges associated with communication were generally overcome.”
Wet weather logistics
Will says that logistical challenges associated with site access were often encountered where surveys were dependant on helicopter access.
“The unpredictable, high-rainfall environment of PNG has an impact on helicopter flights, often restricting access to remote site locations where there is no road access. Due to the unpredictable nature of the weather, it was important to always keep one eye on the weather during surveys where helicopter pick-up was required.
“Teams were equipped with overnight kits, where there was potential to have to camp overnight at the helipad if weather conditions prevented helicopter pick-up. However, by maintaining close communications with the aviation base and receiving regular weather updates, we managed to avoid this.”
According to Will, the PNG culture is largely based on spiritual beliefs, with a high importance and significance placed on elders and traditional values.
“Understanding and managing these values and expectations was a new area for me,” he says.
“However, we took the time to listen to and consider these cultural values, and understand the community’s expectations. Coupled with the assistance of the L&CA team, and the co-operation of the landowners and communities, we worked successfully with the local communities.”
Will says that many of the challenges he encountered during his work on the PNG LNG project were unique to PNG.
“The PNG LNG Project is different from other projects that Coffey Environments has previously worked on because of the diversity of the project area, the unique cultures and people, and the project’s often remote locations. These aspects present new and unique challenges, but make for an exciting work environment.
“I recall having to pour water from a spirit well over my head in order to cleanse myself, prior to passing through a spiritually taboo area of forest that intersected a proposed road alignment. Spirit wells are typically streams or watercourses with which local landowners associate spiritual connections to past ancestors or supernatural beings. The water was brought to us in bamboo cuttings and we were asked to pour the water over our heads. Local landowners assisting with the survey witnessed and also participated in the cleansing with the rest of the survey team. These experiences are like none other I have encountered during project field work.”
A lasting legacy
Working in PNG has been a rewarding experience for Will. “[The most valuable skill I developed during this project was] leadership – leading field teams in remote environments through challenging terrain, and making quick and effective decisions in the field to maintain the health and safety of all survey team members.
“[It was also good to be able to build] rapport and relationships with the local landowners – in often trying circumstances – to achieve outcomes that met both the project and the local community’s expectations.”
While the project has left its impression on Will, he says it is also expected to have a positive economic impact on the region.
“The PNG LNG Project has a detailed and comprehensive national content plan which focuses on workforce development, supplier development, and strategic community investments. The project’s commitment to these areas will mean employment, training and business opportunities,” says Will.
Coffey Environments is currently continuing its involvement with the PNG LNG Project, which is scheduled to ship first LNG in 2014. Coffey is also currently exploring other large development opportunities in the mining sectors of PNG and Africa.