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Regulating offshore oil and gas in Australian Commonwealth waters
The Australian Government manages over 10 million km² of ocean, one of the largest marine jurisdictions in the world.
We regulate oil and gas activities in Australian Commonwealth waters under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006. These waters are the offshore area beyond coastal waters, between 3 and approximately 200 nautical miles from shore.
Our regulatory activities include:
- permits, leases and licences (titles)
- environmental management
- occupational health and safety
- well integrity
Offshore oil and gas exploration and development
Oil and gas companies must meet a number of requirements before commencing activities in Australian Commonwealth waters. Read about offshore oil and gas exploration and development requirements.
Oil and gas exploration and production activities can only happen in Australian Commonwealth waters with approval from the relevant Joint Authority and the independent regulator. The Joint Authority is generally made up of the responsible federal minister and the relevant state or Northern Territory minister.
The Joint Authorities determines areas available for exploration through the annual acreage release.
The National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA) manages oil and gas title administration on behalf of the Joint Authorities. NOPTA publishes information about titles and applications on the National Electronic Approvals System (NEATS) website. See how to use the NEATS portals.
The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) independently regulates offshore oil and gas health and safety, well integrity, and environmental management.
Australia has sovereign rights over a vast area of ocean, along with the oil and gas resources found in that area. See Australia’s marine jurisdiction and maps on the Geoscience Australia website.
Australia has several agreements covering maritime areas bordering international jurisdictions. These may affect oil and gas activities in these areas. Read more on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website:
- Australia-Timor-Leste Treaty establishing maritime boundaries
- Australia-Indonesia 1997 Perth Treaty establishing economic zones and seabed boundaries
- Australia-Indonesia 1972 Seabed Agreement
- Australia-Indonesia 1971 Seabed Agreement
Indonesian traditional fishers are also active within Australian Commonwealth waters. Read about the Indonesia-Australia Fisheries Cooperation on the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment website.
Protecting the environment
Under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations 2009, all oil and gas activities must have an environment plan assessed and accepted by NOPSEMA before they can take place. Oil and gas companies must demonstrate to NOPSEMA how they’ll manage their activities’ environmental impacts and risks to as low as reasonably practicable and an acceptable level.
Read more information including a guideline for environment plan decision making on NOPSEMA’s website.
State environment plans
Before 2012 assessing environment plans for offshore oil and gas activities was the responsibility of the states and territories. See state environment plan summaries for 1 January 2006 to 31 December 2011.
Streamlined environmental approvals
A streamlined environmental approvals process under Part 10 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 has been in place for offshore oil and gas activities since 2014. Under this process NOPSEMA is the sole assessor for environmental approvals for these activities.
Read about streamlined environmental approvals.
Managing offshore environmental incidents
If there is a gas leak or an oil spill, the company undertaking the activity is responsible for stopping the spill, cleaning up the escaped oil or gas and remediating any damage to the environment. They must carry out environmental monitoring of the impact of the spill on the environment.
We lead the Australian government response, working with the relevant state or territory and the company.
- See the Offshore Petroleum Incident Coordination Framework for environmental and safety incidents.
- Read about reducing oil spill risks on the NOPSEMA website.
- Read how the Australian Maritime Safety Authority manages oil pollution.
In 2009 an oil and gas leak occurred at an offshore drilling platform in the Montara oil field, off the Western Australian coast. A commission of inquiry was formed to investigate the cause and circumstances of this incident and the effectiveness of government regulation. Read about the Australian Government response to the Montara Commission of Inquiry.
Although offshore incidents are rare, planning and preparedness are essential to ensure a timely and coordinated response. See how we tested our response to a mock offshore oil spill in Exercise Ningaloo Challenge 2017.
The community can have their say on offshore oil and gas activities. Government and companies consult at various stages.
Annual acreage release
We consult prior to the release of offshore areas (acreage) for exploration.
Planning oil and gas activities
As part of preparing their environment plans companies may consult with many stakeholders including:
- community members
- conservation groups
- tourism and business operators
- other marine users
- government agencies
Certain offshore activities also require an offshore project proposal, which have a public comment period.
From time to time we consult on potential changes to policy, legislation and regulation. These consultation opportunities are highlighted in the Australian Petroleum News.
Health and safety
We regulate Australia’s offshore oil and gas health and safety regime, which aims to:
- protect the health, safety and welfare of workers
- prevent major accidents from happening
Oil and gas companies must develop a safety case which identifies hazards and risks, and describes how the risks will be managed. The safety case must also include arrangements for preparing for and responding to emergencies. It must be assessed and accepted by NOPSEMA before an activity can take place.
Reviewing the offshore oil and gas safety regime
We completed our review of the occupational health and safety (OHS) regulatory regime for offshore oil and gas workers. Read the Offshore oil and gas safety review policy framework.
The policy framework outlines new policy measures for the Act and Safety Regulations. The public will be able to comment on draft legislative amendments in late 2021.
Maintaining well structural integrity protects the health and safety of offshore oil and gas workers, and prevents the release of oil and gas into the environment.
Companies must reduce their well activity risks to as low as reasonably practicable in line with their well operations management plan (WOMP) accepted by NOPSEMA.
- Read about the independent review into the circumstances leading to the administration and liquidation of Northern Oil and Gas Australia (NOGA)
- See the outcomes of the Offshore South East Australia future gas supply study
- Read about the process of streamlining environmental approvals
- See information on combination certificates for petroleum projects
- Read the agreement on payment for NOPSEMA inspectors
Last updated: 12 July 2021
Content ID: 44846