Streamlining Offshore Petroleum Environmental Approvals

On 28 February 2014, the Minister for Industry and the Minister for the Environment announced a new streamlined approach for environmental approvals for offshore petroleum activities, which made the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) the sole designated assessor for these activities in Commonwealth waters.

The Australian Government is now building on the success of streamlining in Commonwealth waters, working to streamline arrangements for projects that cross between offshore and coastal jurisdictions.

Streamlining in designated coastal waters

The streamlined offshore environmental approval process resulted in cost savings to industry and the community of approximately $120 million per year. However, those new arrangements do not apply to activities which are undertaken in coastal waters or which cross both Commonwealth and a State or Northern Territory jurisdiction.

Currently, offshore petroleum projects that cross between the Commonwealth and State or Territory jurisdictions may be subject to multiple separate approvals processes, requiring assessment and approval by a number of separate regulators, such as:

  • NOPSEMA for OH&S, structural integrity and environmental management in Commonwealth waters;
  • the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment under the EPBC Act, for activities in State or Territory coastal waters that are likely to impact of matters of national environment significance;
  • the relevant State or Territory petroleum regulator for OH&S, structural integrity and environmental management in coastal waters; and
  • the relevant State or Territory environment regulator for other environmental matters in coastal waters.

This multiple assessment, monitoring and enforcement imposes an unnecessary burden on business and the community without additional environment protection benefits.

At the inaugural meeting of the COAG Energy Council on 1 May 2014, 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 the NOPSEMA for occupational health and safety, structural integrity and environmental management in designated coastal waters.

The Commonwealth is currently working with officials from South Australia and the Northern Territory to further streamline offshore petroleum approval processes in their coastal waters. The streamlining process will involve two phases:

  • Amendments to the relevant South Australian and Northern Territory offshore petroleum legislation that applies to coastal waters to ensure the laws substantially correspond to the provisions under the OPGGS Act, and to confer the powers and functions for occupational health and safety, structural integrity and environmental management on NOPSEMA for offshore petroleum operations in designated coastal waters.
  • A strategic assessment undertaken in accordance with the provisions of Part 10 of the EPBC Act for each conferring jurisdiction’s coastal waters.

Offshore Regulatory Streamlining

Prior to 28 February 2014, petroleum and greenhouse gas activities in Commonwealth waters that were likely to impact on matters of national environmental significance - as defined in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) - were subject to regulation under both the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (OPGGS Act) and the EPBC Act. This resulted in unnecessary duplication of environmental approval processes.

Strategic Assessment

The former government initiated the offshore streamlining process with bipartisan support. Following the 2013 Commonwealth election, the new government accelerated the process and commenced the Strategic Assessment.

In October 2013, the Minister for Industry, the Minister for the Environment and the CEO of NOPSEMA agreed to develop and implement a 'one stop shop' for offshore petroleum and greenhouse gas environmental assessment in Commonwealth waters. A key feature of the streamlining project was to conduct a strategic assessment, in accordance with Part 10 the EPBC Act, of NOPSEMA’s environmental management authorisation processes.

Consultation

The Program, which describes the OPGGS Act Environmental management authorisation process for petroleum activities and draft Strategic Assessment Report, demonstrates how implementation of the Program ensures appropriate consideration and management of potential impacts on matters protected under Part 3 of the EPBC Act, were released for public consultation from 22 November until 20 December 2013.

A summary of the public comments submitted and the response to submissions relating to the strategic assessment are contained in the supplementary report, which was submitted to the Minister for the Environment, along with the final Program and Strategic Assessment Reports in January 2014.

Endorsement and approval

The Minister for the Environment endorsed the Program under the EPBC Act in February 2014.

The Minister for the Environment also approved a class of actions arising from a strategic assessment of NOPSEMA’s environmental authorisation process under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (OPGGS Act) and OPGGS (Environment) Regulations.

From 28 February 2014, when the amended OPGGS (Environment) Regulations commenced, NOPSEMA became the sole regulator of environmental approvals for offshore petroleum activities in Commonwealth waters, with the exception of exclusions listed in the Approval Notice.

Program evaluation

There will be a review of the Program after 12 months of operation, to be submitted within 18 months of endorsement and within every five years thereafter. The purpose of the reviews will be to assess the performance of the Program against Program objectives including ensuring that impacts on matters protected under Part 3 of the EPBC Act are not unacceptable.

Review of the Environment Regulations 2009

  • The review of the Environment Regulations commenced in 2012, with public consultation on an Issues Paper from December 2012 to February 2013.
  • This streamlining project provided a timely and transparent process for finalising the review of the Environment Regulations.
  • The review sought to improve and clarify the regulation of environmental management of offshore petroleum activities.
  • See Review of Environment Regulations 2009 for more information.

Archived information

See archived information of the strategic assessment process for more information on the streamlining project.

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