Eye-opening excursion


AN on-site visit to a massive pipeline project has given 10 journalists from eight Miri-based media organisations a valuable insight into the oil and gas industry in the country.

PROJECT CAMP: Petronas SSGP Camp 5 near Long Bedian.

The group recently embarked on a two-day familiarisation trip for a first-hand look at the cross-border Sabah-Sarawak Gas Pipeline (SSGP) project, initiated in 2006 and implemented two years later. Now in the final phase, it is expected to be ready in April next year.

The excursion to view the project on the Sarawak side, organised by Petronas, left an indelible mark on the newsmen.

All they had before was a conceptual idea of the project but the trip changed all that. For them, the mere scale of the giant venture and its equally challenging implementation are a big eye-opener.

The group, accompanied by Petronas staff and hired drivers, started out from Miri at 9am on March 21 in a convoy of eight 4WDs.

thesundaypost and a fellow journalist rode in a grey Toyota Hilux, driven by veteran driver James Wan, an Orang Ulu of mixed Kelabit descent from Long Naah, over some of the roughest roads in Baram Division.

Travelling along the Miri-Bintulu Road in Lambir, and after a short break near Sibuti, we hit the notorious Lapok Road, some 57km from Miri city, in about two hours at 11am.

Camp 6 near Long Lama was the first stop in our drive to the project site. We stopped for a break before moving on to the Baram River for the ferry-crossing.

James said it was important to know the roads well. We were delayed by some of the cars in the convoy ahead of us that took a wrong turn. We waited for them to catch up at Long Bedian junction. There was no way to call them due to lack of communication signals.

By 4pm – two hours on road from Long Lama – we reached Camp 5 near Long Bedian where we had a one-and-a-half-hour briefing on the progress of the project by SSGP senior project manager Shaiful Bahrin Hashim.

We then checked into the nearby Long Bedian homestay, and after getting our souvenirs and shirts from Petronas, had dinner before retiring around 10pm.

The next morning, we left Long Bedian at 8 o’clock to visit the first site of Petronas CSR (corporate social responsibility) project – a 60-door resettlement scheme for some 400 Penans of Long Latei.

En route, we passed by gas pipeline installations near Uma Akeh where we stopped to view a Petronas-sponored gravity-feed water pipe system project.

The water flows from naturally elevated sources on Bukit Song – also called Gunung Iko by the local Penans – through six km of water pipes completed and launched on December 18, 2010.

Miri-based Petronas Sarawak Regional Office (PSRO) senior executive for Corporate Affairs Suffian Sabeli stresssed the need for the Penans to be independent in maintaining their own water supply systems for which Petronas has been assisting through installations and training.

We also visited the Long Latei pre-school where gifts from Petronas were given to 18 Penan pupils, led by two teachers and its administrator Jau Jok Jenggo, who is also principal for SK Long Bedian and SMK Long Bedian.

Up to 9.30am on the second day, we only had a conceptual idea of the SSGP project. It was at a nearby construction site that we had our first close-up look at how gas pipelines were laid at what was described as the most challenging terrain in a hilly region between Mount Mulu to the north and Bukit Song to the south.

“The last 100km of pipelines near Long Latei pose a great challenge to the task of welding steel pipes together across difficult terrain with steep slopes,” said Camp 8 Bintulu-based Shaiful, alluding to the engineering feat needed for the final phase of the project, now about 85 per cent completed.

We then had an up-close look at the stainless steel pipes 36 inches in diametre and 12 metres long and realised that these giant cylinders would form the most essential components of the SSGP project as massive 521km onshore pipelines will be laid to deliver natural gas from the Sabah Oil and Gas Terminal (SOGT) in Kimanis to the Petronas Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Complex in Bintulu where LNG is shipped to customers around the world.

Subsequently, we dropped by Uma Akeh to see the Petronas CSR project of upgrading the 40-door Kenyah longhouse at Batu Gading beside the Baram River.

On the way back to Miri, we took a closer look at the stretch of installed but exposed pipelines running over the gentle terrain near Uma Akeh.

After lunch at Long Lama, we crossed the Baram River by ferry and dropped by the seven-door Iban longhouse of Rumah Tiki to see another Petronas CSR project of providing large water tanks.

Sabeli said another five such tanks would be delivered later while headman Jackie Gaong talked about problems they faced like blocked river from heavy siltation and the need to repair their longhouse roofs.

We returned to Miri city in time for dinner.