Report highlights Australia's offshore petroleum industry performance

Media release - Published 18 May, 2015

Today, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) released its 2014 Annual offshore performance report, providing the offshore petroleum industry, workforce, and wider community with key industry performance data.

NOPSEMA is the Australian Government’s independent regulator of offshore petroleum safety, well integrity and environmental management in Commonwealth waters, and in state and territory waters where powers and functions have been conferred.

NOPSEMA’s CEO, Mr Stuart Smith said that “understanding industry performance is an essential element in identifying areas for potential improvement”. NOPSEMA shares industry performance data via the report because improving safety and environmental outcomes is a shared responsibility.

“Industry’s performance in 2014 is encouraging with the report showing a reduction in the number of reportable incidents, dangerous occurrences and accidents. These results are especially pleasing given the upward trend in total hours worked offshore,” said Mr Smith.

Mr Smith pointed out, however, that there are areas for improvement. For the second consecutive year, the report places a ‘spotlight’ on uncontrolled hydrocarbon releases to highlight a 25% increase in the number of releases reported to the authority in 2014 (from 20 in 2013 to 25 in 2014). Mr Smith said that whilst these were predominately in the lower release category, they are still of serious concern due to the risk of ignition and potential safety and environment consequences.

The report also shows a consistent pattern in basic root causes of reportable OHS incidents. Identified through incident reports submitted to NOPSEMA, the top three basic root causes of OHS incidents in both 2013 and 2014 were design, preventive maintenance, and procedures. Mr Smith said that the continued prevalence of deficient preventive maintenance in OHS incidents warrants greater industry attention in light of lower oil prices.

“Anecdotal evidence from other jurisdictions internationally suggests industry maintenance performance often drops around four to six months after a large fall in the oil price”. However, he said the evidence to date “does not suggest the emergence of a correlation in Australia with the current downturn in prices”.

Mr Smith reminded industry that “nevertheless, NOPSEMA will continue to monitor this issue and duty holders should keep in mind that any changes in processes made as a result of reduced budgets should not compromise safety and environmental outcomes in any way”.

NOPSEMA actively inspects industry compliance and in 2014 conducted the highest number of inspections since its establishment in 2005 (146 inspections, covering 202 facilities, titles, wells and petroleum activities). Mr Smith said he expects this increase to continue as NOPSEMA maintains its safety and integrity oversight throughout 2015 and increases environmental management inspections.

The report also shows NOPSEMA reduced average environmental assessment timeframes by 40% from 2013 to 2014 (from 115 days to 68 days). This reduction can be attributed to higher quality submissions from titleholders as well as regulatory amendments allowing NOPSEMA to request further information during an assessment. Of the reduction Mr Smith said “it is pleasing considering it was achieved in the same year NOPSEMA became the sole environmental regulator for petroleum activities in Commonwealth waters, taking over offshore petroleum assessments previously handled by the Department of Environment”. Mr Smith said that this was part of the commitment made by the Australian Government and NOPSEMA “to reducing duplication and regulatory burden through streamlining and simplifying regulatory requirements”.