A series of independent assessments failed to verify claims of compliance failures at oil and gasfields operated by Origin Energy. The claims were made by a disgruntled former employee, who has lodged an unfair dismissal claim against the company.
Origin operates and participates in a series of oil and gasfields across Australia and New Zealand that are the subject of claims by a former compliance manager with the company, Sally McDow. She lost her job with the company as part of a significant restructuring earlier in 2015, which saw as many as 1000 employees axed in the wake of the slump in the oil price.
The collapse in the price of oil over the past 18 months from more than $US100 a barrel to its present level of around $US36 has forced Origin along with other oil and gas producers to axe employee numbers in a bid to rein in costs. Origin was also forced to go cap in hand to raise $2.5 billion from shareholders to strengthen its balance sheet following a heavy round of spending to develop a gas processing and export facility in Queensland.
“She made a series of compliance claims and there were three independent investigations into her claims – all were independent and none substantiated those claims,” a spokeswoman for Origin said.
“Claims of [oil and gas] leaks were not substantiated,” the spokeswoman said.
Ms McDow’s legal representative, Maurice Blackburn, would not comment on the case.
Ms McDow was based in Queensland and it is unclear whether she was privy to some of the information about alleged leaks in projects in parts of Australia and New Zealand which form part of her unfair dismissal claim.
She first raised issues about compliance in connection with HR conversations she was having with Origin management, the Origin spokeswoman said, which were then subject to independent investigation, which failed to substantiate the claims, including of claims of serious compliance issues or cover-ups.
The spokeswoman said Origin encourages employees to raise genuine concerns, which is what Ms McDow did. However, on this occasion none of those concerns were substantiated.
Origin said it “will vigorously defend” itself from Ms McDow’s claims in court.
Specifically, the energy company said there had been no known oil leak to an aquifer in the Surat fields, although “minor operational ‘weeps’ of gas occurred at the Rimu, Kauri and Manuhati fields in NZ, which were not reportable incidents, the spokeswoman said. Additionally, there have been no known gas leaks at the Kauri C well site, from pipelines and no unassessed gas leaks at Heytesbury site in WA.
In the Otway Basin and at the BassGas project, any emissions such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides in excess of the set limits are reported to the regulator, which is available publicly.
At the Jingemia oilfield in WA, an independent third party confirmed that there has been no release of naturally occurring radioactive materials, the Origin spokeswoman said.
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