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The Australian Government manages over 14.6 million km² of ocean, one of the largest marine jurisdictions in the world. 

We regulate oil and gas activities in Australian waters under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (OPGGSA). Australian waters are the offshore area beyond coastal waters, starting 3 nautical miles from shore.  

Our regulatory activities include: 

  • licencing 
  • environmental management
  • occupational health and safety
  • well integrity 
  • resource management

Companies looking to undertake oil or gas activities in Australian waters must meet a number of requirements first, including:

Government processes and approvals  

Oil and gas exploration and production activities can only happen in Australian waters with approval from the relevant Joint Authority. The Joint Authority is generally made up of the responsible federal minister and the relevant state or Northern Territory minister. 

The National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA) manages the day-to-day administration of oil and gas titles on behalf of the Joint Authorities. NOPTA publishes information about titles and applications on the National Electronic Approvals System (NEATS) website. NOPTA provides tutorials to help you use the website

NOPSEMA independently regulates offshore oil and gas health and safety, well integrity, and environmental management.

Making competitive bids on offshore areas

Each year the Australian Government releases offshore areas for oil and gas exploration via the offshore petroleum exploration acreage release. Companies can place competitive work bids to secure an area.  
Before the government releases areas for bidding, they consult with: 

  • other government agencies to see if there are any factors that may affect exploration, such as shipping lanes, native title or marine parks 
  • other ocean users, like the fishing, aquaculture and tourism industries 
  • the public

The government assesses the bids to determine which work program is most likely to achieve the fullest assessment and understanding of petroleum potential within a permit area, in the specified time frames. 

Successful bidders are granted a work bid exploration permit, a six-year title that can be renewed for a further two periods of 5 years. 

Occasionally parts of highly explored areas may be offered for cash bids. This is where bidders pay cash for the right to explore, rather than submitting a work bid. Companies who submit a cash bid must still undergo a technical assessment to ensure they have expertise to carry out activities.

Read about acreage releases on our Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release website.

Exploration activities  

Before an exploration permit holder can carry out activities outlined in their approved work program, they must submit to NOPSEMA:

  • a safety case
  • an environment plan
  • depending on the nature of the activity, a well operations management plan (WOMP)

If NOPSEMA accepts these submissions, companies can carry out their own seismic activity or drilling tests in areas that are shown to be more likely to hold oil and gas deposits. They can also purchase seismic data from other companies.
Exploration doesn't always result in the discovery of oil or gas. 

Developing oil and gas 

Companies who find oil or gas while exploring their permit area must determine whether it’s commercially viable to recover under current technological and economic conditions.

Companies can apply for a production licence over the area if the deposit is deemed viable. Before recovering the deposit they must submit and gain approval on: 

Companies can apply for a retention lease if the deposit isn’t currently commercially viable, but is likely to be within 15 years. Retention leases run for five years and may be renewed.

There are also other licences and approval processes for pipelines, infrastructure and other oil and gas activities.  

Decommissioning a site 

Companies must decommission oil and gas wells, pipelines and other infrastructure no longer needed or in use. 

Decommissioning activities like plugging and abandoning wells, removing property and rehabilitating sites must be done in a safe and environmentally responsible way.

Companies need an approved environment plan, safety case and other documentation just like other oil and gas activities.  

See Australian decommissioning requirements in the offshore petroleum decommissioning guideline on NOPTA’s website

Environment plans

Oil and gas companies must manage their activities’ environmental impacts and risks to a level deemed as low as reasonably practicable, and acceptable. The Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations 2009 outline environment plan requirements.

Read about environment plan requirements and processes on the NOPSEMA website

You can also check the status of environment plans for past and current oil and gas activities on the NOPSEMA website

Health and safety 

Australia’s offshore oil and gas health and safety regulatory regime aims to:

  • protect the personal safety of workers
  • prevent major accidents from happening

Oil and gas companies must make a safety case demonstrating how they’ll manage risks to ensure their offshore activities are safe. 

Read about safety cases and health and safety requirements on the NOPSEMA website.

Well Integrity

Maintaining well structural integrity ensures the health and safety of offshore oil and gas workers, and prevents the release of gas or oil into the environment.

Companies must reduce their well activity risks to as low as reasonably practicable in line with their WOMP accepted by NOPSEMA.

Read about well activity requirements and WOMPs on the NOPSEMA website.

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Last updated: 9 January 2019

Content ID: 44846