Exercise Zephyr ran from Monday 22 August to Friday 26 August 2022. It simulated an offshore petroleum incident in Commonwealth waters, with the oil spreading into Western Australia’s state waters and impacting the shoreline of the Dampier Archipelago.
The simulated incident was classified as Level 3 under the National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies. Incidents at this level are complex because of their size, duration, risk and response resource allocation. This could involve deploying subsea, marine, aviation, shoreline and oiled wildlife resources and equipment.
Day 1 – Monday 22 August
The exercise commenced at 1000 AEST. The manager of the titleholder (ACME Oil) was told by a member of its workforce about a loss of well control and an inability to halt the release of oil at its Stag facility. The titleholder reported the incident to NOPSEMA, which notified the department at 1400 AEST. The titleholder commenced simulated first-strike actions according to its accepted oil pollution emergency plan.
The titleholder estimated that 300 m³ of oil had been released. The reservoir was reported to be positively pressured. Using modelling based on this understanding, the titleholder estimated the oil would flow for 2 to 3 days until the pressure was released and the flow would stop naturally.
On the morning of day 1, the titleholder set up its incident management team in Perth, WA to work through the Stag facility oil pollution emergency plan. The titleholder also activated its contract with AMOSC and requested the following resources:
- 3 fixed-wing aerial dispersant capability aircraft
- 2 offshore containment and recovery strike teams (people and equipment)
- oiled wildlife response support
- shoreline clean-up and assessment survey team.
The WA Department of Transport established the Maritime Environmental Emergency Coordination Centre to:
- start conversations with the titleholder
- mobilise a liaison officer into the titleholder’s incident management team
- confirm if WA state waters may be impacted
- activate its own incident management team.
In the afternoon, the titleholder’s incident management team discussed their actions on day 1 and established objectives for the following day, which included:
- aviation planning for fixed-wing aerial dispersant and aerial observations
- planning for monitoring of short- and medium-term environmental effects
- establishing a financial tracking system
- establishing a log of people and equipment.
After receiving NOPSEMA’s notification that an incident had occurred, the General Manager of the department’s Offshore Resources Branch in Canberra notified OPICC members and established the department’s crisis management team. The team seconded a staff member from the department’s Communications Branch for the duration of the exercise. The crisis management team was made up of 3 sub-teams with different roles and responsibilities:
- media and communications
- OPICC liaison and support
- policy and situational awareness.
The department also deployed liaison officers into both the titleholder’s and WA Department of Transport’s incident management teams. We set up communication channels with NOPSEMA and discussed how often the department would receive situational briefings.
The department’s crisis management team simulated:
- providing briefing and talking points to the Minister for Resources
- drafting talking points for the department’s media team
- preparing for an OPICC meeting the next day.
Day 2 – Tuesday 23 August
On the morning of day 2, the crisis management team:
- gave department switchboard staff a script on the incident
- published a holding statement on industry.gov.au
- provided keywords to the department’s media team for media monitoring
- submitted a media holding statement to the minister’s office.
Before the first OPICC meeting in the afternoon, the crisis management team sent all OPICC members:
- the meeting agenda
- an overview of NOPSEMA’s powers during an offshore petroleum incident
- a background on oil spill response
- the most recent NOPSEMA situational brief.
The first OPICC meeting occurred at 1500 AEST and was attended by:
- the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, including the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator
- Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts
- Australian Maritime Safety Authority
- Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
- Emergency Management Australia
- Australian Border Force
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)
- Parks Australia
- Australian Fisheries Management Authority
- Geoscience Australia
- WA Department of Transport
- the petroleum titleholder.
The OPICC chair (General Manager of the department’s Offshore Resources Branch) gave OPICC members an overview of the incident. The chair outlined the purpose and objectives of the meeting and reminded members of the role of the OPICC during a significant offshore petroleum incident.
Situational updates were then provided by:
- the titleholder
- WA Department of Transport
- other Australian Government agencies that had been affected or were providing support beyind their usual activities.
The titleholder (ACME Energy) reported oil was still being released at 80 to 100 m³ per hour. As the well was positively pressured, the oil was expected to naturally stop flowing in 24 to 48 hours.
ACME reported that the oil slick was heading south-east and was expected to impact Rosemary Island in the Dampier Archipelago on Wednesday 24 August. ACME liaised with the WA Department of Transport on shoreline assessment teams and potential clean up. It also mobilised initial response operations including aerial and marine dispersant.
The WA Department of Transport reported they were working with ACME on media and public information about the incident and had started mobilising equipment. The WA Department of Transport and the titleholder incident management team also held their first Joint Strategic Coordination Committee meeting on day 2.
NOPSEMA confirmed that ACME's response activities were complying with its accepted oil pollution emergency plan and environment plan.
The OPICC meeting addressed all agenda items, mainly focusing on coordinating Australian Government messaging and requests for Australian Government assistance.
ACME flagged it may need to request Australian Government assistance for international emergency response personnel and equipment if the incident exceeded domestic response capabilities. The OPICC confirmed after the meeting that the government could provide this assistance.
ACME and DFAT requested that all public communications include the direction the oil was headed. This was to help ease concerns the oil may impact other nations.
The OPICC agencies’ focus on clear and coordinated government messaging highlighted the need to develop whole-of-government talking points and a situational brief. These documents would allow concise, consistent and up-to-date briefing and public messaging across government.
Day 3 – Wednesday 24 August
On the morning of day 3, oil stopped flowing from the rig. Over the previous 48 hours, approximately 4160 m³ of oil had been released from the facility. The worst-case estimate of the amount of oil washed ashore was 812 m³. The WA Department of Transport continued assessing shorelines and completed planning for vessel-based containment and recovery in state waters.
Reports of oiled wildlife came in throughout day 3. ACME prepared to carry out shoreline activities and oiled wildlife response to support the WA Department of Transport. ACME continued aerial dispersant and surveillance in Commonwealth waters and confirmed that oil was impacting state waters near the Dampier Archipelago.
In Canberra, the department’s crisis management team:
- gave updated talking points to the department’s media team
- responded to briefing requests
- fielded media enquiries
- drafted the whole-of-government talking points and situational brief for OPICC agencies to review and discuss the next day.
Day 4 – Thursday 25 August
On day 4, ACME and the WA Department of Transport determined there were no longer dispersible quantities of oil in Commonwealth waters. As a result, these organisations agreed it was no longer appropriate to use dispersants in state waters.
ACME shifted to supporting the WA Department of Transport with on-water containment and recovery, shoreline clean-up and oiled wildlife response. The Joint Strategic Coordination Committee also held its second meeting.
In Canberra, the department’s crisis management team updated the minister’s office and the department’s media team on the incident. They also prepared for the second and final OPICC meeting that afternoon. The team provided the following to OPICC members before the meeting:
- the meeting agenda
- the most recent NOPSEMA incident update
- the finalised whole-of-government situational brief and talking points.
At the OPICC meeting, members received situational updates from the titleholder, WA Department of Transport and NOPSEMA. Other Australian Government agencies that had been affected provided additional support beyond their usual activities.
ACME confirmed the 4 operational activities underway:
- marine containment operations in state waters
- aerial surveillance
- nearshore operations
- onshore operations.
The WA Department of Transport confirmed oiled wildlife, with 20 birds and 2 turtles being rehabilitated from oil effects. It also reported 20 dead birds and an unconfirmed number of dead fish.
The chair led a discussion on the whole-of-government talking points and situational brief. They also asked OPICC agencies to report any planned ministerial engagements.
Emergency Management Australia noted it could potentially merge its common operating picture software with the titleholders’ software. It could then give OPICC agencies access to the common operating picture to share situational awareness between OPICC members.
Exercise Zephyr ended after the second OPICC meeting.