Continuous improvement of oil spill response preparedness through international engagement

Article published in the Regulator | Issue 3: 2017

The objective-based regime under which NOPSEMA regulates Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry provides a framework for government, industry and the community to work together to ensure environmental impacts and risks are ALARP. The regime also encourages continuous improvement in industry environmental performance.

Continuous improvement can be challenging to maintain, particularly for infrequent activities such as oil spill response. This is because there are so few opportunities to gain real-world experience. Subsequently, training and simulation exercises are an important part of building capability and maintaining expertise.

NOPSEMA takes an active role in pursuing opportunities to gain expertise and to learn lessons from other jurisdictions. For example, NOPSEMA’s represented on the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s National Response Team for oil spill response, which provides staff with opportunities to train for and work on incidents outside of our jurisdiction and be part of an incident management team.

NOPSEMA also participates in national and international conferences on oil spill response, including Spillcon, the International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC), and Interspill, to share insights and experiences. In addition to presenting at these events, NOPSEMA also collaborates with other organsiations to develop technical papers which outline solutions for common industry challenges. A recent example is the ‘How much is enough?’ paper (www.nopsema. gov.au/resources/presentations/) which identifies solutions for determining and regulating appropriate oil spill response preparedness. A key finding of the paper was that response capability is best designed to fit the risk of the activity. This is done through a three-part process of risk assessment, strategic and tactical planning, and preparedness planning. Drafts of the paper were presented at conferences in Brisbane (2015), Perth (2016), and Long Beach, USA (2017). The paper was further developed following discussions at these conferences. Additional input was also provided at the dedicated International Offshore Petroleum Environment Regulators (IOPER) workshop at the 2016 Spillcon conference in Perth.

NOPSEMA is an active participant of the IOPER and thus has regular opportunities to discuss challenges faced by similar regulators from around the world. In recent years, NOPSEMA staff have worked with IOPER colleagues to develop ‘Guiding principles for regulating preparedness for offshore oil spills’ (www.ioper.org/ assets/Report-IOPER-Guiding-Principles-for-Regulating-Oil-Spill-Response-Preparedness-for-Offshore-PetroleumNovember-2014.pdf)

NOPSEMA has joined together with IOPER members to create an oil spill working group. The group has identified the following key areas of work:

• the role of the regulator in industry exercises and training

• opportunities for pre-approval of dispersants for offshore use

• improving the finance model for oiled wildlife response

• defining the key elements of oil spill contingency plans

• how to manage the introduction of new technologies during an oil spill

• transparency in offshore regulation.

Earlier this year, NOPSEMA representatives met with international regulatory counterparts in the USA to discuss best practice regulation of oil spill preparedness. Staff from NOPSEMA’s spill risk team worked closely with staff from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). NOPSEMA also attended the IOSC held in Long Beach, California which provided an opportunity for staff to extend discussions with fellow regulators and explore alternative approaches to contingency planning and regulation. Titleholders will see outcomes from this invaluable opportunity in updates to guidance, enhancements to the way inspections are scoped and conducted and via the Spill Risk Cooperative Forum.

NOPSEMA will continue to engage with national and international counterparts in a variety of forums to ensure Australia remains are the forefront of international best practice.