Managing relationships and response arrangements across borders

Article published in The Regulator | Issue 3: 2020 

As state and federal governments respond to COVID-19 with changing and evolving restrictions, NOPSEMA continues to work with industry and government to test national capabilities and emergency response procedures to ensure effectiveness, reflective of latest circumstances.

A series of solutions-focused exercises involving industry, state government authorities and NOPSEMA have been undertaken to address challenges resulting from restrictions on the movement of specialist personnel and equipment due to border controls and physical distancing requirements as a cooperative effort.

As the offshore energy regulator, NOPSEMA is responsible for ensuring oil and gas companies and facility operators have in place adequate arrangements and control measures for responding appropriately in an emergency. In this role, NOPSEMA is focusing oversight efforts on these cooperative industry exercises and providing feedback in line with legislative requirements. Individual companies are then applying the outcomes of these exercises to their operations which will be subject to further NOPSEMA compliance monitoring activities.

Exercises are being revisited to address the rapidly changing landscape and ensure that the most effective control measures are identified and can be implemented. Industry measures are aimed at limiting any potential disruption in the event an oil pollution response was required, through adaptive and novel approaches to remove or limit COVID-19 transmission risk. This includes the implementation of remote, virtual incident management support teams and training, through to consideration of remote accommodation options to separate emergency personnel from operating facilities and surrounding communities to limit the threat of infection. Protocols developed by industry to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 among offshore workers and the community have also been updated in response to changing circumstances and government requirements.

The learnings from joint exercises are contributing to the maintenance of the national capability for responding to an oil spill during a pandemic. The outcomes are also assisting to inform changes to common arrangements for industry-wide application and have demonstrated real benefits of cooperative approaches to planning, response and assurance.

Relevant to cross-border incidents, recent amendments have been made to the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 to strengthen and clarify NOPSEMA’s regulatory powers within state and territory jurisdictions during an oil pollution emergency originating in Commonwealth waters. A policy outlining how NOPSEMA will exercise its regulatory compliance monitoring, enforcement and intervention for offshore oil pollution incidents, including the recent amendments, has recently been developed with input from relevant state and federal agencies and is available at nopsema.gov.au