The Australian Government commissioned a review into the adequacy of offshore safety regulation in Australia. The review sought to examine the day-to-day regulation of offshore safety which, at the time, was carried out by the states and the Northern Territory using a combination of prescriptive and goal-setting legislative rules.
A key recommendation of the review was that the existing regulatory and legislative framework be revised to establish a single regulator for offshore safety. The recommendation was accepted by all state and Northern Territory governments and, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority (NOPSA) was established as the sole regulator for offshore safety in Commonwealth waters.
While much had been achieved to improve offshore safety in Australia, in the years that followed NOPSA's establishment a number of major offshore accidents became the unfortunate catalyst for further change, including a high pressure 12 inch export sales gas pipeline ruptured and exploded on Varanus Island, off the coast of Western Australia in 2008. Another parallel pipeline then ruptured directing fires towards the onshore processing plant and causing several associated lines to rupture and ignite.
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig suffered a loss of well control and major blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The accident killed 11 workers and led to the worst oil spill in US history lasting 87 days.
The Australian Government commissioned an inquiry into the Montara blowout of 2009, where a failure of the Montara H1 well integrity barriers in the Timor Sea, north of Australia, led to an oil spill and gas leak that lasted 74 days. A fire eventually destroyed the wellhead platform and the West Atlas jack-up drill rig.
The review made a strong recommendation for the existing framework to be revised again so that a single independent regulatory body be established to regulate offshore safety, well integrity, and environmental management.
The recommendation was accepted by the Australian Government and, in 2011, NOPSA's remit was expanded to include the regulation of well integrity.
On 1 January, that remit further expanded to include the regulation of environmental management. To reflect its new responsibilities, NOPSA became NOPSEMA.
In February, following a detailed and comprehensive assessment, the Minister for the Environment endorsed NOPSEMA's environmental management authorisation process. The endorsement confirmed NOPSEMA as the sole environment regulator in Commonwealth waters by expanding its remit to include matters protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
NOPSEMA's effectiveness to bring about improvements in offshore health and safety, well integrity and environmental management is independently reviewed every five years. The first review was undertaken in 2015 and found NOPSEMA ‘to be demonstrating the characteristics of an effective regulator.'
The 2020 review of NOPSEMA operations is underway.
For more on the NOPSEMA reviews visit: National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority reviews | Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources