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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.

We also regulate greenhouse gas storage in Australian Commonwealth waters under the Act.

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.

See reviews of NOPTA and NOPSEMA.

Maintaining maritime boundaries

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:

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.

See environment plans open for comment, under assessment or accepted 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.

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 and Oil Spill Response Exercise 2019.

Ensuring 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.

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

Well integrity

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 well activity requirements and WOMPs on the NOPSEMA website.

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.

Decommissioning offshore oil and gas infrastructure

Decommissioning is a normal and planned petroleum activity.

Read about offshore oil and gas decommissioning regulations and guidelines.

Read about decommissioning the Northern Endeavour. 

Public consultation

The community can have their say on offshore oil and gas activities. Government and companies consult at various stages.

Annual acreage release

We consult before releasing 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.

Read about environment plans and offshore project proposals on NOPSEMA’s website.

Developing policy

From time to time we consult on potential changes to policy, legislation and regulation. See all consultations on offshore oil and gas.

Stay informed

For updates on offshore oil and gas activities and consultations subscribe to Australian Petroleum News.

Read more

Read past issues of Australian Petroleum News

Contact us


See also

Last updated: 7 March 2022

Content ID: 44846