In describing the race to bring gas into Brisbane ahead of the gas line from Bass Strait to Melbourne, Bruce described the preparations for the official turning on of the gas at the gate station at Wallumbilla near Roma. After 25 years, he felt he could safely reveal that “half the pipeline had been filled with gas to 1000 psi. To hear the gas move through the line, I had to remove the gas from the station piping at Wallumbilla to atmospheric pressure, so that when the Premier opened the valve, gas rushed ‘backwards’ into the station and made an appropriate hissing noise.”
Queenslanders were proud of the fact that Brisbane was the first capital city in Australia to have a supply of natural gas for commercial and domestic use. They beat Victoria to the post by a short neck, with the Longford-Dandenong (Bass Strait to Melbourne) natural gas pipeline due to open later that month.*
Meanwhile, South Australia had the Moomba - Adelaide natural gas pipeline under construction but it was due for completion by the end of 1969.
The 435 km Roma-Brisbane pipeline was originally owned and operated by Associated Pipelines Limited and was constructed by Thiess Bros Pty Ltd. Associated Pipelines was formed in 1964, a confident move at the time which was later justified by the large gas contracts it was able to negotiate.
Associated Pipelines entered an agreement with Southern Union Gas Company to come into the project on a 50-50 basis. Southern Union Gas Company, based in Dallas, was a substantial integrated natural gas utility in the United States. It was involved in practically every aspect of natural gas from exploration to selling at wholesale and retail levels.
During the nine years from February 1960 the Associated Group spent more than $A11 million on exploration in the Roma area alone including $A9 million on drilling 202 wholly owned wells. By May 1964, the group had 18 wells cased for gas production in Bony Creek, Richmond and the Blyth Creek fields as well as one at Hospital Hill and two at Timbury Hills. The available reserves from these fields far outstripped the needs of the Roma area, and a pipeline to Brisbane became essential to market this gas.
The existing coal gas sales to Brisbane were equivalent to only three million cubic feet of natural gas per day, which was not enough to make the project economically viable. However, the fertiliser industry seemed to be a logical large user of natural gas and the Associated Group together with the Queensland government made extensive inquiries both within Australia and internationally to establish such a project in Brisbane.
In 1967, Austral-Pacific Fertilisers Ltd sponsored by Dow Chemical Company and Chicago meat group Swift and Company, contracted to buy at least 71 billion cubic feet of natural gas over 15 years to produce ammonia fertilisers at a $A40 million plant to be constructed at Gibson Island on the Brisbane River.
South Brisbane Gas Company signed a contract for a further 20 billion cubic feet over the same period. The two contracts provided a minimum basis for the economic construction of a pipeline from Roma to Brisbane.
Construction of the Roma-Brisbane Pipeline was estimated to cost $A11 million dollars and was financed by equity and loans from the Associated Group, Southern Union Gas, Bank of New South Wales and Australian financial institutions, with the loan money guaranteed by the Queensland government.
After the worldwide call for tenders in 1967, the contract for the construction was won by Thiess Bros Pty Ltd. Thiess also built the pipeline gathering system on the Roma gas fields.