Managing biosecurity risks

Article published in the Regulator | Issue 3: 2018

In accordance with Australian Government requirements, companies conducting oil and gas activities in Commonwealth waters have a responsibility to manage biosecurity risks to protect Australia’s marine ecosystems and marine-based industries from the introduction and establishment of invasive marine species (IMS).

Offshore petroleum facilities are regularly built and maintained in overseas ports, and can present biosecurity risks through the transfer of IMS to and within the Australian marine environment, as illustrated in the Conceptual model. IMS can colonise on among other things, submerged surfaces of petroleum facilities, equipment or vessels supporting petroleum facilities as well as in ballast water. They are difficult to eradicate once established and have long term negative effects on the environment.

As part of an environment plan, titleholders are required to evaluate all impacts and risks, including those associated with the introduction, establishment and spread of IMS for their petroleum activity. In accordance with the Australian Government’s position on matters of national environmental significance, titleholders are also required to manage these risks when commencing or conducting a petroleum activity. To comprehensively understand how titleholders currently manage biosecurity risk for their activities, NOPSEMA inspected seven titleholders undertaking either drilling or production activities in the past year. NOPSEMA’s inspectors focused on the risk assessment processes that are applied by titleholders to confirm that adequate measures were in place to prevent the introduction and spread of IMS within Australia.

During these inspections, NOPSEMA found examples of good practice biosecurity risk management that addressed both ballast water and biofouling risk pathways. The biofouling risk assessment processes that were considered the most developed were those aligned with the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development’s WA — Vessel Check — Biofouling Risk Assessment Tool, coupled with the use of clear and measurable decision criteria for managing high or uncertain IMS risk to an acceptable level prior to facilities departing overseas ports for Australian waters (e.g. dry docking, cleaning and pre-departure inspection by suitably qualified IMS inspectors). Where IMS is detected, titleholders must re-evaluate the biosecurity risk and adopt measures to reduce the likelihood of IMS establishing and spreading from an offshore facility to the Australian marine environment.

NOPSEMA also identified a number of opportunities for industry improvement and issued a series of recommendations related to risk assessment, environmental management systems, personnel competency and consultation. Consistent with the National Strategic Plan for Marine Pest Biosecurity, NOPSEMA also encouraged titleholders to consider surveillance for IMS on the submerged surfaces of facilities and subsea infrastructure using ROV footage or other relevant surveillance techniques to enable the detection and inform ongoing management.

Going forward, NOPSEMA will continue a risk-based focus on industry’s management of biosecurity, taking into account the application of the Ballast Water Management Requirements 2017 and the establishment of biofouling risk assessment and management frameworks that consider relevant biosecurity management guidelines and standards. For further information or related guidance see imo.org or marinepests.gov.au.