Strategic Assessment – Authorisation of Petroleum Activities in Designated Coastal Waters

On 11 June 2015, the Minister for the Environment, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, and the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) entered into agreements to undertake strategic assessments of the Authorisation Process for petroleum activities in the coastal waters of South Australia (SA) and the Northern Territory (NT).

The purpose of these strategic assessments is to assess the effectiveness of the environmental management authorisation process to be outlined in the Program, which describes the assessment and acceptance process for petroleum activities that would be in place in SA and NT designated coastal waters following conferral (the Authorisation Process), and assess the potential impacts on matters protected under Part 3 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

At the May 2014 COAG Energy Council meeting, Ministers noted opportunities to further streamline regulatory arrangements for petroleum activities, including the potential to reduce the regulatory burden on the offshore petroleum industry through the conferral of powers and functions on NOPSEMA for occupational health and safety, integrity (including well integrity) and environmental management in designated coastal waters.

The proposed regulatory streamlining process for SA and NT coastal waters would involve three phases:

  • Amendments to the relevant SA and NT offshore petroleum legislation to ensure it substantially corresponds with the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (OPGGS Act) and to confer powers and functions on NOPSEMA for the regulation of petroleum operations in designated coastal waters in accordance with section 646 of the OPGGS Act.
  • A strategic assessment of the Authorisation Process for petroleum activities in SA and NT coastal waters, undertaken in accordance with Part 10 of the EPBC Act.
  • Consideration of SA and NT environment assessment processes to further streamline regulatory arrangements.

The Australian Government and the SA and NT Governments are considering options to streamline petroleum approval processes in SA and NT coastal waters with a view to maximising regulatory efficiency, while maintaining strong environmental standards. At this stage, no decision to confer powers or functions in either SA or NT has been made. The Commonwealth is undertaking these Strategic Assessments as a preparatory step to enable quick progress should SA or NT make the decision to proceed with conferral.

Final Terms of Reference for Strategic Assessment

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, NOPSEMA, and the Department of the Environment have finalised the Terms of Reference for the Strategic Assessment in SA and NT designated coastal waters. The terms of reference describe the proposed structure for each strategic assessment and the issues that must be addressed to ensure the requirements of the EPBC Act are met.

Each strategic assessment will be undertaken in accordance with the provisions of Part 10 of the EPBC Act. In this case the strategic assessments will focus on of the Authorisation Process for petroleum activities in SA and NT coastal waters, should those jurisdictions decide to confer environmental management powers and functions on NOPSEMA in the future.

Draft Terms of Reference were released for public consultation from 15 July 2015 to 14 August 2015. Feedback on the draft terms of reference was welcomed from any interested parties, to ensure the assessment will address key concerns. Five submissions, from a range of sectors, were received and the draft terms of reference were amended to reflect the issues identified.

Next steps

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and NOPSEMA will commence drafting of the draft Program and Strategic Assessment Report for each jurisdiction. The Program and Strategic Assessment Report must address the finalised Terms of Reference. In accordance with the EPBC Act and the Strategic Assessment Agreement, these documents must be released for a minimum 28-day public comment period.

It is anticipated that, should either the SA or NT Government decide to proceed with conferral, the draft Program and Strategic Assessment Report will be released for consultation in 2016. A notice of the availability of these documents for public comment will be sent to all parties that provide comments on the draft terms of reference. A public notification will also be published on the websites of the Department of the Environment, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and NOPSEMA.

If you are interested in receiving updates on the strategic assessment process, including notification of public consultation periods, please register your interest via email to offshoreenvironment@industry.gov.au.

More information

For further information, please contact:
Email:   offshoreenvironment@industry.gov.au   
Phone: 02 6243 7304
Post:     Regulatory Streamlining Section
Resources Division
Department of Industry and Science
GPO Box 9839
CANBERRA ACT 2601

For general enquiries about strategic assessments, or the EPBC Act, please contact the Department of the Environment Community Information Unit on 1800 803 772.

Current petroleum activities under consideration

There will be no impact on proposed petroleum activities currently under consideration.

Companies currently proposing or undertaking petroleum activities in SA or NT designated coastal waters are expected to continue to consider their obligations to refer proposals for consideration under the EPBC Act on a case by case basis. They must also continue to meet the requirements of relevant SA or NT petroleum and environmental legislation.

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