Achieving effective consultation with relevant persons

Article published in the Regulator | Issue 3: 2014 

The Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations 2009 (Environment Regulations) require titleholders to consult throughout the planning, decision making and implementation stages of a petroleum activity within Commonwealth waters. It is an explicit regulatory requirement for titleholders to carry out appropriate consultation with relevant persons1 before submitting an environment plan for assessment by NOPSEMA.

Consultation with relevant persons is not just a fundamental requirement for NOPSEMA’s acceptance of an environment plan. More importantly, it is a process that is crucial to gaining stakeholder confidence that the environmental impacts and risks of petroleum activities will be of an acceptable level. Relevant persons must be provided with adequate opportunity and information about the proposed activity so they can evaluate it and convey to the titleholder how they may be affected.  The titleholder must then assess and appropriately address any objections and claims raised by the relevant person.

In the past few months, NOPSEMA has received a substantial increase in correspondence from various sectors of the community raising concerns about the consultation processes undertaken by some titleholders in the course of preparing environment plans. The majority of this correspondence includes claims that consultation has not:

  • encompassed all relevant persons

  • provided relevant persons with sufficient  information or reasonable time to assess the  possible consequences of the activity on their functions, interests or activities

  • provided assurance to the relevant persons that  their objections or claims have been understood, considered and appropriately addressed. 

This recent correspondence reiterates the importance for titleholders to design and conduct effective and transparent consultation processes.  NOPSEMA encourages titleholders to consider the following principles of effective consultation, which have been adapted from a report by the Commonwealth Ministerial Council on Mineral and Petroleum Resources*.

  • Communication: Open and effective engagement should be undertaken between titleholders and relevant persons ensuring accurate and relevant information is provided and that any feedback provided is received and addressed openly.

  • Transparency: The consultation process adopted, individuals being consulted, details of the activity and any points of interest or controversy should wherever possible, be made open and transparent. A productive consultation process will establish agreed information and feedback processes. 

  • Collaboration: An effective consultation process will have mutually beneficial outcomes to both relevant persons and the titleholder. By approaching consultation as a collaborative process, appropriate outcomes are achieved.

  • Inclusiveness: Titleholders should recognise, understand and involve relevant persons early  and throughout the lifespan of the activity.

  • Integrity: The manner in which consultation is undertaken should foster respect and trust. This should be evident from the consultation report included in the EP.

By applying these principles, and approaching consultation proactively and as an ongoing mechanism for addressing the impacts and risks associated with petroleum activities, titleholders will be able to fulfil their obligation to afford procedural fairness to relevant persons and ultimately gain stakeholder confidence that the environmental impacts and risks of the activity will be acceptable.