The Australian offshore petroleum industry has grown rapidly and is set to become the largest exporter of gas globally. As the industry transitions, cost pressures will increase and productivity gains will need to be found. Meanwhile, the expectations of the community have also grown rapidly and this is evident through increasing demands for more information about offshore petroleum activities. To build community trust in the environmental approvals process and reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) has initiated the reference case project in conjunction with other government, industry and community partners. This is a collaborative project that seeks to establish a publically available knowledge base about how the environmental impacts and risks of offshore petroleum activities are managed.
Reference cases identify and capture common environment plan content and typical environmental management practices. They establish a knowledge base for the industry to commence development of an environment plan and are available to the public to scrutinise outside of the approvals process. In developing an environment plan, the industry must choose the degree to which it will apply the reference case in the context of their particular activity. Any differences to the environmental management approach described in a reference case must then be explained to stakeholders and, through their environment plan submission, to NOPSEMA.
The primary benefit of reference cases is the establishment of a knowledge base of offshore petroleum environmental management information that is accessible to both the community and industry. By capturing common environment plan content and typical environmental management practices, reference cases will reduce the size and complexity of environment plans resulting in a faster development process, more time to focus on key issues, reduced consultation burden on industry and stakeholders, reduced assessment timeframes and better regulatory decisions.
During this early stage of the project, the first step is for an idea for a reference case to be suggested to NOPSEMA. Once the idea is registered, and a suitable number of appropriate development partners are identified, development of the reference case can start. Development partners will scope the reference case and agree on a review method with NOPSEMA. The agreed review method will match the nature and scale of the individual reference case. For example, a reference case about sound thresholds for fish may require a broad and comprehensive review but a reference case about sewage and grey-water discharge would only need NOPSEMA’s review. In the longer term, the custodian of the project will facilitate the development of new reference cases and NOPSEMA will have a regulatory review role.
The concept will be tested and developed in three phases. Phase 1 commenced in July 2017 and seeks to prove the concept of the project. During this phase, the National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) has funded the development of the first 4 reference cases which will be used to test if the concept can deliver reduced regulatory burden and increased disclosure of information. Phase 2 commenced in November 2017 and will involve identification of a ‘pipeline’ of possible reference cases. Phase 3 will seek to identify or facilitate the formation of a suitable entity to take ownership of the project and develop reference cases in the long-term.
NOPSEMA will update existing regulatory policies, guidelines and guidance notes to recognise the use of reference cases in environment plans and NOPSEMA's decision-making under the Environment Regulations. Information will also be provided to detail environment plan content requirements and how NOPSEMA will assess environment plans that adopt reference case material.
NOPSEMA welcomes any organisation interested in taking part in the project to get involved. We are looking for offers of personnel, information and funding to assist in the development of reference cases, working in partnership. If you have an idea for a reference case or want to be part of the project email email@example.com.
What is NOPSEMA's involvement in reference cases?
As the national regulator for offshore petroleum activities, NOPSEMA is uniquely positioned to understand the demands of industry and the people affected by petroleum activities. We are, therefore, uniquely positioned to create opportunities that seek to provide mutual benefit to both parties in the long-term. This project originated from NOPSEMA’s observations that a collaborative and transformative solution was required in the environmental approvals process and to ensure offshore petroleum activities are carried out in an environmental responsible manner. We recognise the importance of independent regulation and impartial decision making, so whilst NOPSEMA has initiated this project it is unlikely to be an ideal long-term custodian of the material. NOPSEMA will retain involvement through participating in the scoping, prioritising and the regulatory review of reference cases to ensure opportunities for continuous improvement are maximised.