MSCM s Pat Cosgrove in the Gorgon Room at High Wycombe in the UK. Picture: Kim Macdonald/The West Australian.
MSCM's Pat Cosgrove in the Gorgon Room at High Wycombe in the UK. Picture: Kim Macdonald/The West Australian.

In a freezing tin shed half an hour out of London, at the foot of the Chiltern Hills, you will find "the Gorgon Room".

It is 13,000km away and 40 degrees cooler than its namesake project off WA's North West, but workers inside the facility are intensely focused on the Gorgon gasfields.

The facility is owned by MSCM, a ₤30 million-a-year ($55 million) British firm which has a contract with General Electric to design and manufacture subsea products for Chevron's US$54 billion ($60 billion) Gorgon project.

The Gorgon Room, as director Pat Cosgrove calls it, is testimony to the enormous tentacles of WA's $25 billion-a-year petroleum sector.

It is also a sign of the global competition for WA's resource riches, which have already sparked a flurry of activity on the exploration front before factoring in development of mega LNG projects such as Gorgon, Royal Dutch Shell's Prelude and Inpex's Ichthys ventures.

Optimism has been further buoyed by Woodside Petroleum's plan to drill five exploration wells off WA this year. BP, Chevron and Santos also hope to unearth a new oil and gas frontier when drilling starts next year.

MSCM, which operates in 17 regions around the world, said such activity had given it enough faith in the potential of the WA sector that it had set up its only satellite office in Perth, on St Georges Terrace.

And this week, Mr Cosgrove will roll out a booth at the Australasian Oil and Gas exhibition for the fifth consecutive year, hoping to land a little more of the action.

"AOG is the only place where we bother to exhibit," he said.

"WA is a very strong, important market and a centre of excellence, and we think it is only going to get stronger."

Neil Douglas, director of Bristol-based Viper Subsea, agreed that many British supply chain companies had WA in their sights.

"WA is our next target," he said at the Subsea UK convention in Aberdeen this month.

"We expect it will be our biggest market or the second biggest market after the UK."

Mr Douglas said WA did not appeal to all British companies because the North Sea was buoyant and WA was a costly and challenging market.

But interest was gathering nonetheless because the potential spoils of successfully cracking the market were enormous.

"In Australia you have your mega projects, like Gorgon and Wheatstone, Prelude and Ichthys," he said.

"It's great if you get a contract on one of these projects but if you don't it's a long time until the next opportunity comes along.

"In West Africa and the North Sea, there are lots of smaller contracts to keep you going. But it's boom or bust for individual companies in WA."

Viper Subsea, which was recognised for its innovative technology at the Subsea UK awards, and MSCM both manufacture their products in Britain, defying an outsourcing trend in WA.

When _WestBusiness _ visited the MSCM facility in England's High Wycombe, workers talked proudly of their locally manufactured products, claiming British production was a strong selling point that underlined the company's focus on flexibility and quality.

Patting an RDC unit destined for Barrow Island like an old friend, Mr Cosgrove claims the company has no plans to outsource to a cheaper nation.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union head Steve McCartney said the two examples were proof that local WA companies could and should have a bigger role in the resource sector supply chain.

Mr McCartney said there was a mistaken acceptance that Australia was a high-cost country and had no role to play in manufacturing.

However, he said the ability of both MSCM and Viper Subsea to manufacture in a similarly costly country showed local production of high-end systems was possible.

He called on the Federal Government to financially kickstart local manufacturing or risk de-skilling Australian workers.

"All the local workers are going to do with the floating LNG facility is bolt it on and bolt it off," he told a recent parliamentary inquiry into the likely impact of floating LNG technology.

But Stuart Russell, the London-based senior trade and investment manager for the State Government, said global involvement in WA's oil and gas sector was desirable and inevitable.

Mr Russell said petroleum was an international industry, regardless of the location of projects, because no single country had all the component products and services for a major project.

He said the international flavour also benefited Australian companies, with service provider WorleyParsons, for example, employing more people in Britain than it did domestically.

It had contracts on projects from Nigeria to China.

While the local content debate rages, it is unlikely to dampen the British appetite for involvement in the State's resource sector.

WA's agent general in London, Kevin Skipworth, said Britain's growing interest in WA had been stark in recent years.

"We used to go to conferences and sit at the back of the room," he said in London this month.

"Now we go to conferences and we're on the podium. There is keen interest in WA's resources."

But the interest is fairly contained to certain areas, such as Aberdeen, with peak body Oil and Gas UK claiming most of its British members ranked Australia at the lower end of its top 20 investment destinations.

The reporter flew to Britain courtesy of the British Consulate-General Big bucks $24.5b The value of WA's petroleum industry, including crude oil, condensate, LNG, natural gas and LPG (butane, propane) in 2012-13.

The West Australian

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