Sufficient information for consultation

Article published in the Regulator | Issue 6: 2013 

Since commencing in January 2012, NOPSEMA has identified significant improvements to demonstrated stakeholder consultation by operators, however, further improvements in the provision of sufficient information in consultation material could help to reduce ‘consultation fatigue’, result in expedient and informative feedback to operators from interested parties, and shorten assessment timeframes.

Under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations, an operator must demonstrate in their environment plan submission to NOPSEMA that consultation has been carried out according to the legislation. Critical to demonstrating that appropriate consultation has taken place is a record showing the operator supplied “each relevant person sufficient information to allow the relevant person to make an informed assessment of the possible consequences of the activity” on their own functions, interests or activities.

One available consultation practice is to provide generic activity ‘fact sheets’ to all stakeholders. In some cases, however, the provision of generic information may not be sufficient for all relevant persons to engage efficiently and effectively in the consultation process. Operators have access to much more detailed information on the specific impacts and risks of their activity and, while that level of information may not be relevant to all stakeholders, NOPSEMA encourages its use in consultation material tailored to best suit a particular purpose or relevant person. Tailored consultation material may also include information about environmental management decisions and reasoning to support stakeholders’ informed assessments. Tailoring consultation material aims to ensure that relevant persons are given the information that they need to make an informed assessment of the possible consequences a petroleum activity would have for them.

Under Regulation 14(9) of the Environment Regulations, the implementation strategy detailed in an environment plan must provide for appropriate consultation during the operational phase of the activity. Operators should be mindful that any change to the details provided to stakeholders while the environment plan was being prepared, and before the commencement of operations, may necessitate the provision of updated consultation materials during operations. NOPSEMA will often accept an environment plan in which an operator has made a commitment to provide further information post-acceptance of an environment plan, however, the authority has received feedback from stakeholders indicating that this commitment is often not being met. Any commitments made to stakeholders during the consultation period and documented in an environment plan submission to NOPSEMA can be the subject of an environmental management compliance inspection by the authority. It is important that operators meet the commitments they make to stakeholders to ensure that relevant persons are provided with sufficient information and to ensure compliance with the accepted environment plan and legislation.

For more information about consultation see Environment plan content requirements (PDF 953KB).