First LNG was expected soon at Wheatstone. Image: Chevron Australia.
BY ELIZABETH FABRI
ONSLOW is successfully transitioning from a quiet coastal town to a fully-fledged liquefied natural gas (LNG) hub. With Chevron’s Wheatstone project nearing production, and the new $125 million Onslow Marine Support Base under construction, Onslow isn’t slowing down any time soon.
When construction of the $US34 billion Wheatstone project and BHP’s $US1.5 billion Macedon project began, a huge influx of fly-in, fly-out workers have flocked to Onslow. Once a low-profile regional town in the Shire of Ashburton, Onslow was now a thriving hub of activity, and the gateway to the WA Pilbara’s offshore oil and gas fields.
In 2013, Macedon gas plant began operations, and in 2017 the Wheatstone project is gearing up to deliver first gas.
A Wheatstone construction workforce as large as 7500 will no longer pass through the town as Wheatstone enters its production phase, but Chevron’s $250 million fund for local infrastructure projects is helping to providing certainty for the region.
A number of key infrastructure projects were currently underway to support the community, while other resources projects were progressing through the planning pipeline; indicating Onslow’s time in the sun was far from over.
Onslow Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) chief executive Chantelle King said through the development of Wheatstone, Macedon, and the proposed K+S Ashburton Salt Project, the town shows “no sign of slowing down any time soon”.
“Onslow remains positioned to be at the forefront of economic development in WA for years to come,” Ms King said.
“According to the 2016 Census results Onslow’s population has grown from 667 in 2011 to almost 900 at the time of the 2016 Census.
“This is already a fantastic start to the growth of Onslow as these statistics are even before the Wheatstone Project commences operations, and we only see this figure continuing to go up over the next couple of years,” she said.
First LNG at Wheatstone
Undeniably the primary catalyst behind Onslow’s progression, Chevron’s Wheatstone project is the second largest resources project in Australia, and the country’s first LNG venture developed as a hub.
The onshore facility, 12km west of Onslow at Ashburton North Strategic Industrial Area (ANSIA), comprises a 200 terajoules per day domestic gas plant, and two LNG trains with a combined capacity of 8.9 million tonnes per annum.
Construction of the project began in December 2011, and six years on first gas was about to be delivered.
In a June investor presentation, Chevron said commissioning on train one was currently underway with start-up expected ‘mid 2017’, while train two’s construction was ‘on plan’, with an anticipated start-up between six and eight months after train one.
Once operational, the Wheatstone project was expected to contribute more than 10 percent of Australia’s total future LNG production and employ a workforce of about 370 people.
Ms King said since construction began, the project had made an invaluable contribution to the community, and this was expected to continue.
“The significant community contribution Chevron have made, is exactly that, very significant – which has seen funds be put towards community infrastructure but also events and organisations within the town,” Ms King said.
“All of these things make Onslow a more liveable town, especially for families which we have already seen a growth in the number of young families now living in Onslow and the number of activities organised in the community.
“We are actually in our fourth year of partnership with Chevron, which has very much assisted us grow in to the professional organisation we are today.”
In 2017 alone, Chevron funding assisted OCCI employ a full time chief executive, establish an ongoing presence at the OCCI office on the main street of town, and commence development of a Business Support Program.
Ms King said if companies like Chevron continued to work towards establishing residential workforces as opposed to fly-in, fly-out, Onslow would benefit greatly.
“The town on one level will start to get a bit quieter as the construction workforce starts to reduce, but on the other hand we will hopefully start to see a less transient workforce in the community and more permanent residents,” she said.
“Chevron are also encouraging, where possible, major contractors to have a presence in the community – for example there was a recent EOI for General Civil Works that required the companies plant and equipment to be based in Onslow, which is a fantastic opportunity for growth of an existing business.
“If contracts like this are continued with this wording then there is potential for new larger businesses to have a presence in Onslow.”
Once Wheatstone begins production, new business opportunities were expected to open in the area, including warehousing, logistics, freight consolidation services, mooring operations and equipment, vessel operations and maintenance, and field services such as plumbing.
This was expected to continue for the life of the project, which according to current estimates, will be more than 30 years.
Onslow also had a number of other projects in the works, including a new $125 million Onslow Marine Support Base (OMSB) in Beadon Creek to service the oil and gas industry.
Once complete, the base operated by Agility Logistics would provide more than 100 permanent positions for the community, and a raft of business opportunities.
Ms King said construction of the base was “cruising along nicely” with the facility due to open in September.
“We have already had Agility Logistics in Onslow to run an information session for the community about business and employment opportunities,” Ms King said.
“Once again Agility are working towards a residential workforce, and are wanting to employ locals where possible and also have other employees move to Onslow.
“Agility have been a fantastic company to work with and we are confident that once the project is operating the community will see the positive effects through business growth and also employment.”
In addition, Horizon Power was developing a $36 million Distributed Energy Resource (DER) project to deliver more than 50 per cent of Onslow’s electricity needs through renewables.
The project would become Australia’s largest DER microgrid, and comprise a new 5.25 megawatt (MW) modular power station for Onslow, a mix of distributed and utility-scale solar, and battery storage.
Horizon Power had begun construction of the power station, with final commissioning scheduled to begin early 2018, while design work was currently underway to determine the best location for the solar farm.
A $350 million Ashburton Salt project 40km southwest of Onslow was also on the cards, after German salt company K+S’s purchased mining licenses last year from local investors.
“They [K+S] are currently working through the EPA stage and the environmental studies that will need to be completed could potentially take another three years,” Ms King said.
The Department of Transport also awarded a contract to a local business to complete upgrade works at the Beadon Creek Harbour.
The Chevron-operated Gorgon project, 100km northeast of Onslow at Barrow Island, also showed promise for the town, with potential for Onslow to be a secondary supply and servicing base in the future.
Onslow Marine Support Base under construction. Image: Maritime Constructions.
As the population of Onslow has grown, so has its social fabric.
The OCCI has been a large facilitator, encouraging the development of local business and community engagement through a series of networking events and awards.
BHP has also been heavily involved in the town, committing $5 million towards the construction of a basketball centre and skate park in Onslow, which has now been completed.
“BHP are still playing a fantastic role in the Onslow community, they are a Gold Sponsor of the Chamber and are huge supporters of local businesses,” Ms King said.
“Wherever possible BHP will ensure a local business is given an opportunity for works, including for their upcoming shutdown later this year – this work has been given to a large shutdown company who are already working closely with us for local business opportunities.”
This year BHP also launched a new series of events for women in Onslow.
“This is a fantastic new initiative which already has fantastic attendance from the women in Onslow,” she said.
Chevron’s $250 million commitment to social and critical infrastructure projects in the town included a new airport, a hospital currently under construction, swimming pool and shire administration centre.
“Chevron are positively working towards residential workforces wherever possible, as well as other projects in Onslow, such as the Onslow Marine Support Base which is also working towards a residential workforce,” she said.
“With the increase in population we have started to see new small businesses start-up in the community, as new people move to town they bring new skills which have encouraged businesses to start-up.
“For example a mobile physio/Pilates instructor and a cake baking business have recently been established and we only anticipate to see more of these types of businesses.”
Ms King said with such a large amount of infrastructure works underway, her outlook for the region was “very positive”.
“There is a lot happening in this little town and I feel like it is only just the start of great things for Onslow,” she said.
“I believe Onslow is going to continue to grow over the next few years and long in to the future with potential projects continuing to look at Ashburton North Strategic Industrial Area.”