“Without the support of these people and organisations, we couldn’t have done what we’ve done. We worked tirelessly to ensure that communities and the government were aware of what we were doing and could feel that they were a part of the project.”
Ms Autin also points to the importance of strategic logistical planning as a stepping stone to success.
“Most of the project infrastructure – the gas plants, pipelines, and the ships that are taking the gas to the market – consist of proven, fit-for-purpose technology. However, the logistics of getting these facilities into place, on time, in PNG proved difficult and this is where the need for strategic planning came in.”
For example, Exxon wanted to ensure drilling and construction contractors were not competing for the same limited existing logistics infrastructure in the field. It also wanted to provide flexibility and contingency by opening three logistics paths to the remote project areas:
- The existing 800 km highway from Lae;
- A route from the south through the Pai Inlet in the Gulf of Papua; and,
- The establishment of an air bridge to the Hides conditioning plant by building an airfield at Komo to allow the use of Antonov cargo planes.
“Planning ahead to open up these three paths meant we were able to finish the Project ahead of schedule,” she says.
The formidable terrain
As predicted, the rugged terrain and high rainfall in the highlands posed many challenges to the project.
“In some parts of the pipeline, we had to airlift pieces of pipe in, and in other places we were laying the pipeline up very steep hills. At times, the weather posed a problem. The pipeline was probably the toughest part of the project,” admits Ms Autin.
Another barrier faced was how to get large and sensitive equipment to the Hides Gas Conditioning Plant, located in PNG’s Highlands. The 800 km Highlands Highway could not support big loads, particularly the bridges – of which there are 98 along the highway, many not rated for loads exceeding 50 t.