The country's biggest resources project is taking shape on Barrow Island's east on a confined patch of red dirt scraped clear of spinifex and ant hills.
More than 3300 workers on 10-12 hour shifts are attacking a multitude of tasks on the $43 billion Gorgon LNG development, pushing it towards its planned 60-month construction completion in late-2014.
Civil and underground works at the gas processing site are progressing to plan, onshore pipelines are being laid and foundations for the three initial production trains and the second 180,000cbm LNG storage tank are down.
Off the adjacent beach, barges laden with equipment are docking at a new wharf, or in industry parlance the materials offloading facility, or MOF, after an 18-month dredging campaign which cleared the approach channels of eight million cubic metres of material.
The 1.9km causeway linking the shore to the wharf will feed into a 2km LNG loading jetty, supported by 3000-tonne concrete caissons which are now arriving from the Australian Marine Complex in Henderson, 1300km south.
In waters to the island's north-west, a second drilling program is about to begin on the final development wells which will tap Gorgon's three foundation gas fields.
Gorgon is not yet half complete, but Chevron's general manager of the Greater Gorgon area, Colin Beckett, reckons the group has a pretty good handle on the project.
During a visit to Barrow Island last week, Mr Beckett said the development of Gorgon a joint venture between Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Tokyo Gas and Chubu Electric Power, was firing on every front and running to time and budget. But he offered that 2012 really is quite a big year for us.
It is likely the consortium will later this year have a far better idea of whether Gorgon can defy the resources industry's recent history of blowouts and delays.
Significantly, the first of the pre-fabricated modules for Gorgon's processing plant are due from South Korea at the end of next month, kickstarting the major mechanical and electrical work.
The logistics involved with an island development, combined with the land use, environmental and quarantine restrictions applying to Barrow Island because of its status as a nature reserve, make Gorgon challenging. With the development confined to just 1.3 per cent of the 234sq km island, the marshalling and deployment of both equipment and labour become particularly important.
Which is why there is anticipation, and perhaps just a little nervousness, within the project management team about the delivery and the installation of the modules. Mr Beckett says it is vital to the project timetable that the 200,000t of units arrive on Barrow Island complete and tested to avoid delays.
Chevron remains comfortable with its probalistic completion target, provided the $2 billion of mechanical, electrical and instrumentation work goes to plan.
What's really going to inform us next is when we get productivity from the mechanical work, Mr Beckett said. And as for the budget: There are cost pressures on the project, there always are. We're comfortable with the numbers we have put out. Until we get better data, we won't be saying more.
The Gorgon outlay includes $500 million to build a 3300-bed, cyclone-tolerant construction accommodation village on a site 4km south of the processing precinct.
Barrow Island's environmental sensitivities it is a major nesting ground for marine turtles and home to at least six endangered mammal species, as well as the giant perentie lizard excludes the workforce from most of the island, including its beaches.
Not surprisingly, the village has succeeded the old oil camp as the island's social hub, supporting the establishment of a host of activities to sustain the growing workforce in its limited down time, including meditation classes, swimming lessons (pool) and a book club.
Copyright 2012 West Australian NewsPapers Limited. All Rights Reserved.
(Originally published April 7, 2012, in The West Australian.)