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Exercise Ningaloo Challenge was conducted from 11 to 14 September 2017 and simulated a Level 3 oil spill incident occurring in Commonwealth waters, with the oil spill spreading into Western Australian coastal waters. Incidents at this level are complex in size, duration, resource management and risk, and require deployment of jurisdictional resources beyond the initial response.

Day one

The exercise commenced at 1200 AEST on 11 September 2017. Notification of a reported loss of well control and failed attempts to shut in the well were received by the Titleholder’s Duty Manager. The incident was reported to the appropriate agencies, including the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and WA DoT. The Titleholder commenced simulated first response actions in accordance with its Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (OPEP).

The WA DoT Maritime Environmental Emergency Coordination Centre was established and a State Marine Pollution Coordinator Liaison Officer was deployed to the Titleholder.

In Canberra, following NOPSEMA’s confirmation that an incident had occurred, the department’s Crisis Manager (General Manager, Offshore Resources Branch) established the department’s CMT and OPICC members were notified of the incident. Contact was established with the Titleholder, NOPSEMA and WA DoT to seek information and set up communication channels to develop and maintain situational awareness during the incident.

The department’s CMT provided briefing to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, drafted a ministerial media release, developed ministerial talking points, commenced media monitoring and prepared for an OPICC meeting on the following day.

The first department incident brief was prepared and distributed to OPICC members late in the afternoon.

Day two

During day two, the first OPICC meeting of the exercise was held, attended by:

  • Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, including the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator
  • AMSA
  • Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Emergency Management Australia, Attorney-General’s Department
  • Department of Immigration and Border Protection
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
  • Australian Fisheries Management Authority
  • Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
  • Department of the Environment and Energy
  • Geoscience Australia
  • WA DoT
  • Titleholder

Attendees received situation reports from the titleholder, WA DoT and NOPSEMA and the issues around this information were discussed. The Titleholder made six requests for Commonwealth Government assistance, relating to aviation (civil and defence) flight coordination; customs and biosecurity clearance advice; visa facilitation and expedited processing; access to Bureau of Meteorology information and imaging tools; and NOPSEMA assistance with reviewing revised safety cases and permissioning documents. These requests were agreed to, pending written request from the Titleholder.

OPICC members asked for information on the safety of personnel, potential impacts of the incident, potential control measures, and discussed the Commonwealth resources that were available to assist the operational response.

The OPICC meeting did not address all agenda items, and most notably the approach to coordinated communications was not adequately discussed. This highlighted the need for the OPICC to have a more focused mission statement, rather than attempting to address all issues related to the incident.

The department’s CMT produced a morning and an afternoon incident brief (incident briefs #2 and #3), which were provided to OPICC members.

In Fremantle, WA DoT established an Incident Management Team and in Exmouth WA DoT Strike Teams were deployed to the Forward Operating Base established there. The Titleholder commenced mobilisation of Strike Teams to Exmouth. To facilitate effective coordination between the Titleholder and WA DoT, the State Marine Pollution Coordinator convened the inaugural meeting of the Joint Strategic Coordination Committee (JSCC).

The WA Government and the Titleholder conducted a joint media conference in WA and the Prime Minister held a media conference in Canberra.

Oil escaping from the well entered WA coastal waters late in the night on day two.

Day three

Geoscience Australia provided the OPICC with satellite and ocean current data that had been requested on day two.

Strike teams from both WA DoT and the Titleholder arrived in Exmouth and initial site reconnaissance in the operational areas was conducted. A WA DoT team was also deployed to nearby islands. The JSCC was convened again.

Oil began to reach land around 1200 AEST.

The OPICC held a second meeting at 1400 AEST and received situation reports from the Titleholder, WA DoT and NOPSEMA. OPICC members discussed the process of external communication by the various stakeholders, the circumstances under which the Australian Government National Crisis Committee would be activated, the role of the Australian Government Crisis Coordination Centre (CCC) and the progress of action items from the previous meeting.

The department’s CMT produced a morning and an afternoon incident brief (incident briefs #4 and #5).

This was the final day of the exercise for the OPICC and the department’s CMT.

Day four

Oil reached additional areas of the WA coast early on day four. WA DoT and the Titleholder continued the operational response with strike teams deployed in accordance with Incident Action Plans, and a third JSCC meeting was conducted.

This was the final day of the exercise for WA DoT and the Titleholder.