How do I know (as a titleholder) when my environment plan is ready for submission?
Ultimately, a titleholder has to decide when to submit an environment plan. NOPSEMA strongly advises titleholders to check their environment plan against the requirements of the Environment Regulations prior to submission. The decision making guidelines are likely to be useful for those reviewing the submission in this manner that also has sign-off authority for the environment plan. If a titleholder can confidently say that the environment plan has addressed each of the ‘making a decision’ points in each guideline then the environment plan should be ready for submission.
What is the difference between an ‘environmental impact’ and an ‘environmental risk’?
NOPSEMA makes a distinction between environmental impacts and environmental risks. Understanding this distinction is critical to demonstrating environmental impacts and environmental risks will be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) and will be of an acceptable level.
An environmental impact, as defined in the Environment Regulations (Regulation 4), means ‘any change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, that wholly or partially results from an activity’. An ‘environmental risk’ is not defined in the regulations, or indeed in any AS/NZS, it is considered by NOPSEMA to mean ‘any change to the environment, whether adverse of beneficial, that wholly or partially may result from an activity’.
Accordingly, the difference between ‘impact assessment’ and ‘risk assessment’ is that environmental impact assessments are concerned with events* that are reasonably certain to occur, while environmental risk assessment is concerned with events that may possibly occur.
Acoustic emissions, lighting, planned fluid/air emissions, benthic habitat disturbance etc. are examples of environment impacts because they generally cannot be completely avoided when undertaking petroleum activities. Unplanned fluid/air emissions, oil spills, introductions of invasive marine species etc. are examples of environmental risks because they can be prevented when undertaking petroleum activities.
If a titleholder assesses an impact as a risk, or a risk as an impact, in their environment plan then it is unlikely that the environment plan will meet the criteria for acceptance specified in the Environment Regulations.
*Event means the occurrence or change of a particular set of circumstances [ISO 73:2009, definition 188.8.131.52]
What is the level of detail required to be provided in an environment plan?
Only by including a sufficient level of detail in the environment plan will NOPSEMA be able to determine if the environment plan meets the criteria for acceptance. The environment plan must be a stand-alone document that is sufficient to meet the content and level of detail requirements of the Environment Regulations without the need to refer to other documents external to the environment plan.*
Overall, a well-structured, coherent environment plan will facilitate a titleholder’s ability to demonstrate to others that they have a clear understanding of the factors that influence environment impact and environmental risk, and the controls that are critical to reduce them to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) and to an acceptable level.
The Environment Regulations are very clear where a titleholder is to supply descriptions of elements in the environment plan, as opposed to referencing other documents. The description of an element should:
distil the points of value and the relevant features of the element
outline its potential deficiencies and how these may be overcome
outline the reasoning or the background thinking to the development of the element
explain how it is connected to, or supports, other elements.
When referencing supporting studies, the environment plan should summarise the key findings of the study and explain their significance. Any assumptions made in the environment plan should also be specifically noted, for example the description of the supporting study should demonstrate an understanding of any assumptions made and limitations these may create.
Generally, listing elements or referencing other documents will not provide a sufficient level of detail for NOPSEMA to determine if the environment plan meets the criteria for acceptance. Examples of this include:
details in relation to higher order environmental impacts and risks limited to either a reference to a study performed or, in some cases, simply a commitment to conduct a study
details provided in relation to the summary of a titleholders environmental management system limited to the listing of internal policies and procedures
activity descriptions limited to the physical facility or vessel, with little or no detail on the activities that will, or are likely to, interact with the environment
only partial details of the control measures identified as a result of the environmental assessment.
During NOPSEMA’s assessment of an environment plan, a request for further written information may be made with regard to the description of a reference document, but the document itself would not typically be requested.
The nature and scale of the activity proposed in the environment plan is the primary factor that will determine the level of detail required. This is because the nature and scale of the activity will determine the evaluation method(s) selected to assess environmental impacts and risks which will then determine the level of detail necessary to be provided in the environment plan. For higher order environmental impacts and risks, a more rigorous and thorough evaluation method may be required in which will generally necessitate greater level of detail and extent of analysis to be provided. The detail provided should include:
inherent features of the method(s) that underpin its operation and suitability for the circumstances of its use
the assumptions made and their influence on the method(s) and the outcomes generated
the known strengths and weaknesses of the method(s)
relevant inherent aspects of the activity and its environment
any precautions applied in the evaluation.
The extent of the detail provided in an environment plan should be considered in regard to the relative significance and uncertainty associated with the environmental impact or risk, and the amount of interest expressed by relevant persons in that impact or risk.
*Except where a titleholder specifies information already provided to NOPSEMA under Regulation 31.
How does NOPSEMA determine if the environmental impact and risk evaluation method(s) are appropriate?
The methods a titleholder selects to evaluate environmental impacts and risks demonstrate the processes a titleholder undertakes to determine the comparative magnitude of an impact or risk and the control measures necessary to reduce the impacts and risks to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) and to an acceptable level. NOPSEMA expects a titleholder to apply their preferred evaluation method(s) consistently throughout the environment plan. NOPSEMA has noted titleholder evaluation of environmental impacts and risks is usually undertaken using a mix of the following methods:
the application of an environmental standard / method / code or document of standing
good practice and professional judgement
qualitative discussion and analysis
semi-qualitative basic empirical analysis
quantitative analysis such as prediction modelling
application of the precautionary principle.
Higher order environmental impacts and environmental risks are likely to require greater study and evidence that are aligned with quantitative methods whereas lower order environmental impacts and environmental risks are when qualitative methods are more likely to be acceptable.
The evaluation method(s) used should generally be consistent with methods of international repute. There is no preference for which method(s) are used however some more typically seen by NOPSEMA include Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA), Best Available Technology Analysis (BAT), Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA), ENVID/HAZID Hazard Identification, and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The UKOOA risk-based decision framework is commonly used in Australia and ISO 17776:2000 describes some of the methods (called structured review techniques by the standard) used in safety and environmental contexts. Whatever method is used, the quality and ultimately utility of the output(s) generated depends on the quality of input information. Where the volume and availability of information, and confidence in the available information is low, additional studies may be required to inform the impact and risk evaluations or to test assumptions made.