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Offshore Petroleum Regime - Overview

Australia’s system of government is founded in the liberal democratic tradition and is one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world. Australia is a representative democracy where people eligible to vote elect representatives to speak and make decisions on their behalf. Australian citizens vote to elect representatives to each of the three levels of government – federal, state or territory and local.

The Constitution defines the responsibilities of the Australian (federal) Government, which include foreign relations, trade with other countries, defence and immigration. Regional governments of states and territories are responsible for issues such as transport infrastructure, health and education and local governments are responsible for issues such as road maintenance, public facilities etc. All levels of Government adhere to the principles of responsible government and Australian law.

Australian governments do not undertake commercial petroleum exploration or development. The governments’ roles in relation to the petroleum sector are to:

  • establish the macroeconomic environment (broad economic policy);
  • provide a regulatory framework for exploration, development, safety, environmental assessment and revenue collection;
  • reduce commercial risk in petroleum exploration by collecting and disseminating geoscientific information; and
  • investigate ways to remove impediments to industry competitiveness.

Both the federal government and the regional state and territory governments have roles in facilitating petroleum exploration and development:

  • the Australian Government is responsible for broad economic policy and international matters, including personal and company income tax, the overall level of government spending, foreign investment guidelines, trade and customs, commercial corporations and international agreements;
  • beyond the coastal waters (seaward of the first three nautical miles of the territorial sea) to the outer limits of Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone, petroleum rights are held by the Australian Government, with titles decisions carried out jointly with the relevant regional state or territory government; and
  • onshore and in coastal waters (the first three nautical miles from the coastline), the regional states and territory allocate petroleum rights, administer petroleum operations and collect royalties on petroleum produced.

Due to their shared interest in the contribution of the petroleum sector to national economic wellbeing, the Australian Government holds regular consultations with states and territory with a view to ensuring coordination of policy and regulatory requirements for the sector.

Under international law, Australia has sovereignty over the territorial sea and sovereign rights for exploring and developing mineral and hydrocarbon resources over the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf.

This jurisdiction extends from the territorial sea baseline to the outer edge of the Continental Shelf and accounts for over 14.4 million square kilometres - an area greater than Australia’s total land area and one of the largest marine jurisdictions in the world. Petroleum exploration and development in the Timor Sea Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) is managed jointly between Australia and Timor-Leste.

The legal framework within which offshore petroleum exploration and development activity takes place in Australia is a result of agreement on the division of responsibilities between the Australian Government and the regional state and Northern Territory (NT) governments under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement (1979).

Offshore petroleum activities beyond designated state and territory coastal waters are governed by the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (the OPGGSA) and associated regulations. The legislation provides for the orderly exploration for, and recovery of, offshore petroleum resources and sets out a basic framework of rights, entitlements and responsibilities of governments and industry.

The key matters covered in the legislation are:

  • issue of invitations to apply for exploration permits
  • granting of permits to successful applicants and determination of conditions of the title
  • declaring locations where petroleum has been discovered within an exploration permit
  • granting of retention leases over discoveries that are not currently commercial but are expected to become commercial within 15 years
  • granting of production and pipeline licences
  • granting of infrastructure licences for various processing activities
  • granting of special prospecting authorities, access authorities and consents for scientific investigations
  • renewal of titles (where appropriate)
  • variations of title conditions, exemption from title commitments, suspension of title commitments and cancellation of titles for non-compliance with the conditions of the title, and
  • approval of applications for the registration of legal transactions, including farm-ins and transfers of titles.

The OPGGSA is supplemented by a set of regulations, including the:

  • Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Safety) Regulations 2009
  • Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations 2009, and
  • Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Resource Management and Administration) Regulations 2011.

A list of relevant legislation, determinations, guidelines & fact sheets is available at http://www.nopta.gov.au/legislation/index.html and http://www.nopsema.gov.au/legislation-and-regulations/

A range of government departments and statutory authorities are involved in administering the regulatory regime for the offshore petroleum sector in Australia. The relevant departments and authorities, and their respective responsibilities, are outlined below.

Joint Authority

The Joint Authority for each State (except Tasmania) and the NT comprises the responsible Commonwealth Minister and the relevant State or NT Minister. The Joint Authority for the Eastern Greater Sunrise offshore area, the offshore area of each external territory (e.g. the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands) and for the Tasmanian offshore area is the responsible Commonwealth Minister only. The Joint Authority may delegate any or all of its functions and powers to officials in the respective Commonwealth and State/NT departments with responsibility for resources and energy.

The Joint Authorities make the major policy decisions under the OPGGSA concerning the granting of petroleum titles, the imposition of title conditions and the cancellation of titles, as well as core decisions about resource management and resource security. Other key functions and powers of the Joint Authority include the release of offshore petroleum exploration areas.

National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator

The National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA) is responsible for the administration of petroleum titles and data management in all offshore areas and is the point of contact for matters pertaining to offshore titles administration in Commonwealth waters.

NOPTA’s key functions include:

  • providing information, assessments, analysis, reports and advice to members of the respective Offshore Petroleum Joint Authorities
  • managing the collection, administration and release of data
  • facilitating life of title administration, including Joint Authority consideration of changes to permit conditions, and approval and registration of transfers and dealings associated with offshore petroleum titles, and
  • maintaining the registers of petroleum and greenhouse gas storage titles.

For more information, visit the NOPTA website at www.nopta.gov.au and the National Electronic Approvals Tracking System website at: http://neats.nopta.gov.au/.

For administrative guidelines outlining titles administration matters, refer: http://www.nopta.gov.au/legislation/guidelines.html

National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) is the federal government’s independent regulator of occupational health and safety; structural integrity of facilities, wells and well-related equipment; and environmental management of petroleum operations in Commonwealth waters, and in coastal waters where state and Northern Territory powers have been conferred.

As an independent regulator, NOPSEMA remains separate from policy and activities which promote the development of Australia’s offshore petroleum industry. It is concerned with assessing, and accepting where appropriate, permissioning documentation for petroleum activities. NOPSEMA is accountable to the Commonwealth Minister for Industry.

NOPSEMA is the sole Commonwealth regulator for environmental regulation of offshore petroleum activities in Commonwealth waters. In this way, NOPSEMA is responsible for assessing and accepting petroleum activities in Commonwealth waters under the requirements of both the OPGGSA and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

For more information about the role of NOPSEMA please visit www.nopsema.gov.au.

More information about the safety and environment aspects of Australia’s offshore petroleum regime can be found below - Offshore safety and environment regime

National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority

NOPSEMA is the regulator of occupational health and safety; integrity of facilities, wells and well-related equipment; environmental management; and day-to-day petroleum operations in Commonwealth offshore areas.

NOPSEMA is the sole designated assessor for environmental management of offshore petroleum activities in Commonwealth waters including requirements of both the OPGGSA and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

For more information, see the NOPSEMA website at www.nopsema.gov.au.

There are five types of petroleum titles that may be granted depending on the activity to be undertaken:

  • Work Program Exploration Permit – a six year title (that may be renewed for two periods of five years) that provides rights to undertake exploratory activities such as seismic surveys and drilling within the permit area in accordance with an approved annual work program;
  • Cash Bid Exploration Permit – a six year title (that may be renewed for one period of five years if so specified) that provides rights to undertake exploratory activities such as seismic surveys and drilling within the permit area;
  • Retention Lease – a five year title (can be renewed) granted to the holder of an exploration permit or a production licence where a discovery has been made which is not currently commercially viable, but is likely to become so within 15 years;
  • Production Licence – a life-of-field title that is granted to the holder of an exploration permit or a retention lease for the recovery of petroleum following a commercial discovery;
  • Infrastructure Licence –  an indefinite term licence granted to enable the construction of offshore facilities for the storage and conversion of petroleum (e.g. gas to LNG or methanol) or to operate a floating LNG facility or an offshore production facility that is located outside of the production licence area or held under a different ownership structure; and
  • Pipeline Licence – an indefinite term licence granted for the construction and operation of an export pipeline to transport petroleum to shore or to other facilities.

Petroleum titles are awarded on a successive basis, beginning with an exploration permit. If a discovery is made and a location is declared, the titleholder may apply for a production licence (if the discovery is commercial) or a retention lease (if the discovery is not commercial but is expected to become commercial within 15 years). From a retention lease, the titleholder progresses to a production licence once the discovery becomes commercial. The chart below outlines the basic offshore title system.

Titles are awarded over areas comprising one or more graticular blocks of 5 minutes longitude and 5 minutes latitude. Part blocks may exist where graticular sections are bisected by a jurisdictional boundary. In such cases, the blocks are generally referenced as “part blocks” in a title instrument, but they are still treated for all purposes as “blocks” within an offshore area.

In areas not covered by titles, companies may apply to the Titles Administrator for a Special Prospecting Authority (SPA) to undertake seismic or other geophysical or geochemical survey work (but not to drill a well) in a particular area for a period of up to 180 days. A SPA provides a non-exclusive right to examine an area prior to any potential invitation for applications for an exploration permit. A SPA does not provide any rights in relation to the award of a future exploration permit.

Existing titleholders (including SPA holders) who wish to undertake petroleum exploration activities (other than drilling a well) in areas proximal to their existing title may apply to the Titles Administrator for an Access Authority. An Access Authority may provide access to a vacant area or an area covered by a title to enable the applicant to fully explore the area over which it is the titleholder. An Access Authority will remain in force for the period specified in the authority, unless surrendered or cancelled, and does not provide any rights in relation to the award of a future exploration permit.

Offshore Petroleum Titles Flow Chart (work program)

Workflow - work program

Offshore Petroleum Titles Flow Chart (Cash Bid)

Workflow - Cash Bid

Offshore Petroleum Titles Flow Chart (work program)

  • Area Selection
    Areas nominated for release by industry, state/NT governments and Geoscience Australia. Nominated areas are evaluated and selected for inclusion in a release
  • Acreage Release
    Annual Acreage Release areas announced by the Federal Minister for Industry (areas clearly identified as available for either work program bidding or for cash bidding)
  • Call for Work Program Bids
    The Joint Authority issues an invitation through the Government Gazette for explorers to bid for areas in the work program bidding rounds (6-12 months)
  • Bid Assessed
    The Joint Authority agrees on the successful applicants. NOPTA, on behalf of the Joint Authority, offers permits to successful applicants who have 30 days to accept or reject the offer
  • Exploration Permit Granted
  • NOPTA grants permit on behalf of the Joint Authority
  • 6 Year Exploration Permit in force
    Work program permit:
    • 3 year guaranteed primary work program
    • 3 year secondary work program (guaranteed upon entry into each year)
      • Exploration Permit Renewed
        Titleholder can apply to the Joint Authority for a renewal of the exploration permit (*in most cases)
        • 50% relinquishment of permit area
        • Renewal for 5 years
        • Maximum 2 renewals (work program)
      • Discontinued
        Permit does not continue due to:
        • Permit surrendered (conditional to work commitments)
        • Permit cancelled (titleholder should consider good standing requirements)
        • Permit expires - not renewed
      • Discovery Made
        The exploration program is successful and a discovery is made. Titleholder can apply to the Joint Authority for the declaration of a location over the discovery
        • Location Declared
          Joint Authority declares location over field.
          Within requisite timeframe, explorer can apply to Joint Authority for a retention lease or production licence
          • Not yet Commercial
            Retention lease can be granted over the block(s) in the location if the discovery is not currently commercially viable, but is likely to become so within 15 years
            • Retention Lease in Force
              Retention Lease gazetted by NOPTA and in force.
              • For 5 years with work program
              • Can reapply for further Retention Leases but have to prove not commercially viable, but likely to be within 15 years
          • Commercially viable
            Production licence can be granted over the block(s) covering a commercial discovery; a field development plan is also required
            • Production Licence in Force
              Production Licence gazetted by NOPTA and in force
              • For life of field while producing
              • May be terminated if production ceases for more than 5 years

Offshore Petroleum Titles Flow Chart (Cash Bid)

  • Area Selection
    Areas nominated for release by industry, state/NT governments and Geoscience Australia. Nominated areas are evaluated and selected for inclusion in a release
  • Acreage Release
    Annual Acreage Release areas announced by the Federal Minister for Industry (areas clearly identified as available for either work program bidding or for cash bidding)
  • Call for Cash Bid Applications 
    The Joint Authority issues an invitation through the Government Gazette for explorers to
    • (i) prequalify (based on technical and financial competence); then
    • (ii) bid for areas in the cash bidding round
  • Cash Bid Auction
    Applicants that satisfy the prequalification process are invited to place a cash bid for the area or areas. The applicant that places the highest cash bid for the area will be offered the permit. Successful applicants have 14 days to accept or reject the offer.
  • Exploration Permit Granted
    NOPTA grants permit on behalf of the Joint Authority
  • 6 Year Exploration Permit in force
    Cash bid permit:
    • 6 year permit (no work program requirements)
      • Exploration Permit Renewed
        If permit is renewable - titleholder can apply to the Joint Authority for a renewal of the exploration permit
        • 50% relinquishment of permit area
        • Renewal for 5 years
        • Maximum 1 renewal (cash bid)
      • Discontinued
        Permit does not continue due to:
        • Permit surrendered (conditional to work commitments)
        • Permit cancelled (titleholder should consider good standing requirements)
        • Permit expires - not renewed
      • Discovery Made

The exploration program is successful and a discovery is made. Titleholder can apply to the Joint Authority for the declaration of a location over the discovery

  • Location Declared
    Joint Authority declares location over field.
    Within requisite timeframe, explorer can apply to Joint Authority for a retention lease or production licence
    • Not yet Commercial
      Retention lease can be granted over the block(s) in the location if the discovery is not currently commercially viable, but is likely to become so within 15 years
      • Retention Lease in Force
        Retention Lease gazetted by NOPTA and in force
        • For 5 years with work programs
        • Can reapply for further Retention Leases but have to prove not commercially viable, but likely to be within 15 years
    • Commercially viable
      Production licence can be granted over the block(s) covering a commercial discovery; a field development plan is also required
      • Production Licence in Force
        Production Licence gazetted by NOPTA and in force
        • For life and in force
        • May be terminated if production ceases for more than 5 years

The annual Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release (the Acreage Release) is a key part of the Australian Government's strategy to increase promote petroleum exploration in Australia’s offshore waters.

The regular release of acreage provides explorers with new opportunities to invest in Australia’s oil and gas sector and enables industry to undertake longer term planning to support the ongoing investment in, and development of, Australia’s offshore petroleum exploration industry.

The Acreage Release also ensures access to comprehensive pre-competitive geological and geophysical datasets, and ensures the provision of quality information on third party issues that may impact on successful applicants.

The Acreage Release is underpinned by Australia's stable economic environment and well-established, objective-based regulatory framework which seeks to balance environmental, social and economic considerations in the development of Australia’s natural resources.

The main steps in the acreage release cycle are:

  • Stakeholder nomination of vacant offshore acreage to be considered for inclusion in the Acreage Release. A nomination period of between two and three months for the following year’s release opens immediately after the Acreage Release launch.
  • Once potential areas have been identified, the Australian Government undertakes an extensive stakeholder consultation process with agencies in Commonwealth and state jurisdictions with direct responsibility for managing the marine environment. This process involves consideration of factors such as maritime boundaries, environmental and fisheries impacts, defence and communications, maritime/navigation safety, marine parks and native title.
  • Industry is advised of shortlisted areas proposed for the subsequent year’s Acreage Release through the December edition of the Australian Petroleum News eNewsletter. These areas are provisional and subject to change until officially launched by the Minister.
  • The Acreage Release is launched by the Commonwealth Minister for Industry and Science. This announcement generally coincides with the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Conference, held in April/May each year.
  • Industry is formally invited to place bids for each release area via a notification in the Australian Government Gazette. The Gazette notice details application and submission requirements.

The release of areas is supplemented by detailed pre-competitive geological information and analysis on the areas and other support material and through domestic and international information seminars.

Industry is strongly advised to consider the 2015 Acreage Release General and Special Notices before placing a bid.

Offshore petroleum exploration permits do not, of themselves, authorise petroleum exploration activities. Rather, an exploration permit grants the titleholder the right, in the area for which the permit is granted, to apply for permission to undertake exploration activities that are judged by environmental and other regulators to comply with the law.

Australia’s offshore petroleum legislation provides that all titleholders must carry out operations in accordance with good oil field practice, including carrying out operations in a manner which is safe and prevents the escape of petroleum into the environment. In order to retain a title, conditions of work (where applicable) must be met, the provisions of the legislation and regulations must be adhered to and the annual titles administration levy paid.

All petroleum operations require specific plans to be accepted by NOPSEMA before the activity commences (e.g. acceptance of a safety case, environment plan, and/or well operations management plan). Details of approval requirements are set out in the OPGGSA and associated regulations.

Australia’s offshore petroleum regulatory regime places the onus on the duty holder to demonstrate that exploration for, and extraction of, petroleum resources is undertaken in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

Companies undertaking petroleum exploration activities are required to hold the relevant permissioning documentation and notify the relevant Commonwealth/state/territory government department or organisation prior to the commencement of a seismic survey and/or drilling of an offshore well.

Where appropriate, conditions may be included in an exploration permit title. Failure to comply with conditions of an exploration permit title may result in commencement of permit cancellation proceedings.

Safety case regime

Safety in the Australian offshore petroleum industry is regulated under a safety case regime underpinned by the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Safety) Regulations 2009.

The objective-based regime is founded on the principle that the legislation sets the broad safety goals to be attained; the operator of the facility develops the most appropriate methods of achieving those goals for their facility; with the ongoing management of safety being the responsibility of the operator, not the regulator. The role of the regulator is to assess whether the operator’s proposed measures are appropriate and to monitor and enforce compliance with duties of care.

Current practice in offshore safety regulation involves the operator of an offshore facility preparing a safety case to manage occupational health and safety at a facility. The safety case describes the facility, identifies hazards and risks, how the risks are controlled and describes the safety management system in place to ensure that controls are effectively and consistently applied to maintain health and safety.

The safety case is submitted to the regulator (NOPSEMA) for assessment. Operations must not be carried out at a facility without an accepted safety case in force. Once a safety case has been accepted by the regulator, it forms the “rules” with which the operator must comply in operation of the facility and against which the operations will be audited by the regulator.

For further information on offshore safety matters contact:

NOPSEMA
GPO Box 2568, PERTH WA 6001
Telephone: +61 8 6188 8700
Website:  www.nopsema.gov.au

Manager – Environment, Safety & Security
Resources Division
Department of Industry and Science
GPO Box 9839
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Telephone: +61 2 6243 7802
Website: http://www.industry.gov.au/resource/UpstreamPetroleum/OffshorePetroleumSafety/Pages/default.aspx

Offshore facility security

Preventive security arrangements for Australian offshore facilities are regulated under the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003 and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Regulations 2003. Consolidations of this legislation may be found at: www.comlaw.gov.au.

This legislation provides a framework for operators of certain offshore facilities, ports, and ships, and a range of associated service providers, to undertake security risk assessments and implement preventive security plans.

Security plans set out the security measures and procedures to be implemented to safeguard maritime transport and offshore facilities against acts of unlawful interference. Security plans also identify security measures to be used when different maritime security levels are in force. The Office of Transport Security within the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development is responsible for assessing and approving these plans.

Organisations involved with offshore petroleum production need to be aware of this legislation. In particular, these organisations should assess at an early stage whether any of their activities are likely to be covered by the requirement to prepare and submit a security plan. Approval of security plans can take up to 90 days, and it is an offence for an offshore industry participant to operate without an approved security plan in force when one is required. Even if an industry participant is not required to have its own plan it may be affected by another’s plan.

Further information on offshore facility security matters is available at www.infrastructure.gov.au/transport/security/oil_and_gas/index.aspx or by contacting the Office of Transport Security: Transport.Security@infrastructure.gov.au with attention to “Offshore Oil and Gas”.

Telephone
Security:                                1300 307 288
From outside Australia:      +61 2 6274 8187
Cabotage:                             1300 307 761                      
From outside Australia:      +61 2 6274 8189

Environment protection requirements

Australian Government legislation relevant to environmental management of offshore petroleum exploration and development activities includes:

  • OPGGSA;
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act);
  • Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981;
  • Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983; and
  • Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

Under the OPGGS Environment Regulations, titleholders must have an Environment Plan accepted by NOPSEMA prior to commencement of a petroleum activity. The plan must detail environmental impacts and risks for the activity, demonstrate that those risks are reduced to as low as reasonably practicable and show there will be acceptable environmental outcomes. In addition, the Environment Plan must contain an Oil Pollution Emergency Plan and titleholders must have adequate financial assurance to meet any costs of response and remediation in the event of an incident involving hydrocarbon release.

Until recently, petroleum and greenhouse gas activities in Commonwealth waters that were likely to impact on matters of national environmental significance were regulated under Environment Regulations and the EPBC Act. As a result of streamlined arrangements, titleholders seeking to undertake petroleum activities in Commonwealth waters no longer need to refer those actions for assessment under the EPBC Act provided they are undertaken in accordance with the environmental management processes under the OPGGS Act (http://www.industry.gov.au/resource/UpstreamPetroleum/OffshorePetroleumEnvironment/Documents/ProgramReport.pdf)

Activities excluded from the streamlined arrangements that are likely to have an impact on a matter of National Environmental Significance may require additional environmental approval under the EPBC Act. These include activities that:

  • Have, will have or are likely to have a significant impact on the environment on Commonwealth land;
  • Are taken in any area of sea or seabed that is declared to be a part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975;
  • Have, will have or are likely to have a significant impact on the world heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage property or on the national heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef National Heritage place;
  • Are taken in the Antarctic; and
  • Are injection and/or storage of greenhouse gas.

For further information on environment related titleholder obligations please see: http://www.industry.gov.au/resource/UpstreamPetroleum/OffshorePetroleumEnvironment/Pages/default.aspx and http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Series/C2004A00485

Other users of the marine environment

Section 280 of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (OPGGSA) requires that all offshore petroleum operations must be carried out in a manner that does not unduly interfere with other users’ rights and interests. There is also a need to comply with the requirements and standards set by Australian law.

All titleholders must have due regard for matters such as:

  • environment and heritage protection;
  • Native Title rights and interests;
  • resource management;
  • navigation and maritime safety;
  • fishing activities;
  • defence activities and submarine telecommunication cables; and
  • all other users of the marine environment including other petroleum and mineral explorers and developers.

As well as general advice on the requirements that apply to all release areas, the annual Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release information package contains General and Special Notices which outline matters and requirements relevant to undertaking petroleum exploration activities in specific areas.

Explorers should consider the General and Special Notices

 relevant to individual areas released for bidding when applying for an exploration permit, and throughout the life of the permit. This information may be supplemented from time-to-time through alerts in the Australian Petroleum News publication.

Successful applicants are responsible for incorporating these notices into their work program timeframe, and for consulting with the relevant bodies prior to undertaking exploration activities.

If you have any questions, or would like to receive the Australian Petroleum News, please email: petroleum.exploration@industry.gov.au.

The below sections outline the points of consultation required at various stages of the offshore petroleum exploration lifecycle.

Consultation before Acreage Release

In its preparation of the annual acreage release, the Department of Industry and Science recognises the multi-use nature of the marine environment and coordinates a targeted consultation with organisations in Commonwealth, state and territory agencies with direct responsibilities for managing the marine environment.

In order to be informed of the nature of activities occurring, or likely to occur in the proposed area, the department seeks information on the implications of release for those agencies.  This consultation regularly includes consideration of a range of factors including but not limited to maritime boundaries, environmental and fisheries impacts, defence and communications requirements, maritime safety and native title interests.

Information collected is communicated to potential explorers through the special notices issued as part of the acreage release package.

Information gathered may also lead to inclusion of specific title conditions and/or re-shaping or removal of areas to balance competing interests and/or to avoid unduly protracted, risky or inefficient exploration activity in future.

It should be noted that release of an area does not necessarily result in award of a title. If a title is awarded it may be several years before any on-water exploration activities occur.  As such, at the point of acreage release, details of the nature, timing and location of future exploration activities are not known. Rather the offshore petroleum regime requires consultation with relevant persons at the point of planning for exploration and/or development activities.

Publishing of proposed areas

The Department of Industry and Science publishes a notification of the shortlisted areas proposed for the subsequent year’s Acreage Release through a December edition of the Australian Petroleum News eNewsletter.

These areas are provisional and subject to change until officially launched by the Minister. This announcement generally coincides with the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Conference, held in April/May each year.

When planning Exploration and/or Development Activities

Following acreage release and subsequent award of a title, titleholders/duty holders are required to develop an environment plan which must be accepted by NOPSEMA for their activity to proceed.  In accordance with this process, titleholders/duty holders are required by the Environment Regulations to consult with all relevant parties before any petroleum activities can be undertaken.

‘Relevant persons’ are defined under the Environment Regulations (refer to Regulation 11A) as persons whose functions, interests or activities may be affected by the activities to be carried out and may include Australian Government agencies, individuals, community groups, non-government (including conservation) organisations, fishing, tourism and other business operators, depending on the proposed activity and particular receiving environment that may be impacted by that activity.

Titleholders/duty holders must, in the Environment Plan, include a report on all consultations comprising a summary of consultation, an assessment of the merits of any objection or claim, a statement of the titleholder’s response to each, and the full text of all correspondence. The implementation strategy for an Environment Plan must also demonstrate adequate arrangements for ongoing stakeholder consultation.

NOPSEMA will assess the titleholder’s Environment Plan to determine whether consultation has been appropriately undertaken.  If NOPSEMA determines that consultation has not been appropriate, NOPSEMA must ‘refuse to accept’ the Environment Plan (refer to Regulation 10A for the acceptance criteria).  NOPSEMA is responsible for  monitoring the titleholder’s continued compliance with the accepted Environment Plan and its associated commitments to ongoing consultation.

NOPSEMA has issued publically available guidance on the application of the consultation requirements of the Environment Regulations which is an important source of information for both duty holders and interested parties ( http://www.nopsema.gov.au/assets/Information-papers/N-04750-IP1411-Consultation-Requirements-Under-the-OPGGS-Environment-Regulations-2009.pdf).

Additional information is contained in:

  • the OPGGSA, as amended from time to time, the associated Explanatory Memoranda and Second Reading Speeches;
  • the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Safety) Regulations 2009;
  • the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations 2009;
  • the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Resource Management and Administration) Regulations 2011 (includes requirements relating to well operations, field development plans and data management); and
  • administrative guidelines issued to assist with the administration of the legislation.

An electronic compendium of all current legislation, regulations and guidelines governing the offshore petroleum industry can be found at: http://www.nopta.gov.au/legislation/index.html

The NOPSEMA website is also a useful reference for safety, well integrity and environmental management matters: http://www.nopsema.gov.au/

Industry may also subscribe to receive regular updates on regulatory developments, and general information on the regulation of the Australian petroleum industry through the Australian Petroleum News, a free occasional newsletter, by emailing: petroleum.exploration@industry.gov.au.