Phil and his sister Bev established Stonestreet's Coaches in a small depot in Toowoomba in 1993 providing a range of general chartering bus services including over recent years to the onshore gas industry both upstream in Gladstone and downstream in the Surat Basin.
In this article, Phil Stonestreet shares some of his insights and experiences dealing with the onshore gas industry in Queensland and how their coach services business is adapting as the industry transitions from construction to production in the Surat Basin.
Phil says while his company has benefited greatly from working with each of the onshore gas proponents and their major contractors, he's also seen opportunities where things could be streamlined and done better, especially when it comes to prequalification and induction.
"We recognise each proponent has very stringent standards when it comes to workplace health and safety and insist on comprehensive procedures and processes.
"However, when it comes to say prequalification and induction wouldn't it be great if there was a common approach taken across the onshore gas industry.
"Instead we have had different approaches taken by each proponent which makes doing business very costly as we have to jump through a different set of hoops for each project.
"I have had the situation where each driver and their bus was prequalified for one project but couldn't be used for another project even though they are doing essentially the same job.
"But I can imagine there must also be a cost for the proponents themselves as they have to audit and maintain their own different prequalification and induction processes when some of those costs could have been shared if there had been a common approach," Phil says.
He says the lack of consistency from industry in applying those standards can also be frustrating.
"The cost of prequalification is significant for family firms like ourselves, and it can be frustrating when we allocate significant resources to meeting pre-qualification requirements only to find the standards have not been uniformly enforced".
Phil says he's still hopeful that some consolidation of processes and procedures will occur as the industry moves to the next long term phase of operations and maintenance, resulting in efficiencies for both operators and proponents.
Stonestreet's have recently gained full prequalification status with Achilles after undergoing an extensive site audit, this audit followed the implementation of a range of management systems for safety, quality and environment.
In meeting the requirements of the onshore gas industry Phil describes the changes to his business as 'astronomical' in order to keep up with the level of compliance required.
"Previously we employed 20 administration staff in our business now have 44 administration staff.
"Our policies and procedures have ramped up 150% - there's a procedure for everything.
"That's okay as we understand that's the cost of doing business with the gas industry and we would hope that the industry continues to recognise and reward that significant investment by local firms.
Phil says given the current perfect storm of an industry in transition and low world oil prices they are continuing to strive to improve their cost effectiveness and providing additional efficiencies to their clients.
"Like everyone else we are seeking to minimise our overhead costs, and ensure we have some flexibility in managing our fleet size to respond to changing circumstances.
"At the same time we are continuing to invest in new technology that can assist in improving our efficiency.
"We have continued to develop our IVMS (In Vehicle Management System) to better manage our buses and drivers and increase safety.
"We have also further progressed our Coach Manager (CM) and Vehicle Maintenance System (VMS) for our rosters and maintenance as well as forming an alliance with a software partner to deliver an Application for our clients that helps their workers manage their travel.
At the height of the onshore gas construction boom the gas industry represented about 80% of the company's turnover with 20% coming from their regular general chartering business.
Phil says currently it has dropped back to about 50:50 with a number of major contracts still operating in Gladstone, but these will wind down further as downstream construction is completed. From early next year the projection is that the gas industry will represent 30 per cent of total business.
Phil says he's optimistic about the future of the onshore gas industry in Queensland.
He expects in a few years' time there will be significant production and associated activity occurring in the Surat Basin in order to supply the expected six trains of LNG to exporting gas from Gladstone.
That said, he's working hard now to continue to deliver valued services to the onshore gas industry and positioning his coach business to be there for the long haul.
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