Verifying oil spill emergency response measures

Article published in The Regulator | Issue 2: 2020

Throughout the pandemic, NOPSEMA has been working with industry and government to ensure the offshore oil and gas sector can respond quickly and effectively in the event of an oil spill emergency, despite the many challenges associated with COVID-19. In particular, the restrictions on the movement of specialist personnel and equipment both internationally and domestically raised concerns about access to adequate resources in the event of an emergency.

Joint exercises involving industry and NOPSEMA were undertaken in April 2020 to test capabilities and emergency response procedures, identifying problem scenarios, specific needs and possible solutions. This involved testing oil spill response arrangements through workshops as part of NOPSEMA’s work with the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Working Group and the Drilling Industry Steering Committee Source Control Working Group.

To support industry in light of the significant impacts of COVID-19, NOPSEMA introduced a Compliance Strategy to ensure it effectively and efficiently regulates the offshore industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In parallel, industry developed protocols specific to the offshore oil and gas industry designed to protect workers and the community while maintaining operations, business continuity and production. These protocols include measures such as establishing minimum safe manning levels, undertaking regular temperature checks across the workforce, and applying exemptions to some restrictions to allow movement of personnel and logistics capabilities.

NOPSEMA continues to facilitate consultations with industry and government regarding the ramifications of government policy decisions in response to COVID-19, such as international and domestic travel restrictions and the subsequent effects on offshore resourcing.

As the regulatory body responsible for ensuring oil and gas companies and facility operators can adequately respond to an emergency in a capable manner, NOPSEMA’s role is focused on evaluating the proposed options and response plans and making sure industry is compliant with latest standards. This reflects recent amendments to the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006, providing NOPSEMA with clear regulatory powers to ensure compliance in any state or territory jurisdiction during an emergency.

This coordinated approach to problem-solving has been of great value in developing and testing a single national capability to respond to an emergency event, such as an oil spill, during a pandemic.

The outcomes of the workshops and joint exercises confirm that the industry is capable of managing potential risks and impacts to as low as reasonably practicable. The activities have reinforced the effectiveness of applying and testing a single national capability on behalf of all offshore petroleum companies. Learnings from the experience have assisted in defining common, robust arrangements, accessible and applicable across the industry.

This unified, national approach will continue to be developed and strengthened to improve resilience and preparedness in the face of threats such as pandemics.