Oil and gas next on drug search hit list

Drug screening is set to continue at critical transit points around West Australia as Operation Redwater gears up for a third phase of operation targeting oil and gas workers.

Last week the second phase of Redwater focussed on searching airports servicing BHP and Rio Tinto mines, including the Newman Airport, but the third phase will look further afield to deal with other regional airports servicing the oil and gas industry.

In conjunction with the airport searches, heavy haulage drivers were also targeted for drug screening in an operational component of Redwater, called Operation Phaeton.

Operation Redwater co-ordinator Commander Murray Smalpage said the traffic stoppage took place at a strategically chosen location near Wubinn, where most traffic to and from the Pilbara must pass.

“Woven is a jump off point for road trains, so that was the subject of quite intensive traffic operations, targeting drivers heading into the Pilbara,” he said.

During the three day operation, 533 random breath tests were administered, with 200 of them heavy haulage drivers.

Of those drivers, four required saliva testing for other drugs due to appearance of intoxication despite a negative BAC reading.

Two drivers tested positive for methamphetamine, one tested positive for marijuana, and one other testd negative.

“We’ve also targeted people in the Pilbara who are leaving Newman, so simultaneously we are doing remote airports and coordinating that with traffic movements to and from the Pilbara," Smalpage said.

“We want the message out there that there is [searches] more to come. We want those people, who would be foolish enough to take illicit and dangerous substances to minesites, not to do it.”

Smalpage said the operation so far had been conducted with a focus on the major miners FMG, BHP and Rio Tinto after ongoing meetings between police and representatives of the companies, but that regional airports would also be targeted.

“We will probably adopt that same style elsewhere when we go, and without divulging where the next one will be, we will coordinate our activities.

“It may be a regional airport, probably better located for the oil and gas sector,” he said.

Smalpage said Operation Redwater was triggered by several factors, including the arrest of a Fortescue Metals Group worker for possession and distribution of methamphetamine, or crystal meth, in the Hamilton Worker’s Camp.

Another factor was the high level of use of crystal meth among drivers on public roads chosen for drug screening.

“The numbers of people who tested positive for meth in the Pilbara was the highest in the state; 40 per cent of the people we drug tested were positive for meth,” he said.

“The problem was a bit broader than we anticipated, there’s synthetic cannabinoids being advertised, and fake urine available, we’ve had anecdotal evidence and intelligence about people being apprehended with urine bags concealed under their arm in case they’re called for a drug test.

“After an approach to WA police by industry, we decided we would launch Operation Redwater as a high-visibility, no-tolerance approach to highly dangerous activity on a minesite.

“When you think of the equipment they’re using, it’s just mindboggling that people would be so stupid, but it would appear they are.”

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.