The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has estimated that Australia’s marine industries are worth more than $50 billion a year and that oil and gas is the largest single contributor to Australia’s marine economy.
The Australian offshore oil and gas industry is subject to some of the world’s most stringent and rigorous environmental regulation.
The primary legislation regulating the offshore oil and gas industry in in areas more than 3 nautical miles from land is the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (the OPGGS Act) and associated regulations. This implements the legal framework covering all oil and gas operations in Australian waters.
The OPGGS Act requires oil and gas operators to comprehensively demonstrate that all environmental risks from their activities are reduced to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable and that this risk is also at an acceptable level.
By encouraging the petroleum industry to continually improve its performance, this process lead to standard practices that outperform many other industry standards and conventions, including in areas such as water discharge or ballast water management.
When planning offshore projects, companies identify and examine potential risks to people and the environment. Procedures are established to reduce or eliminate any hazards, and to train employees to identify and respond to potential incidents.
Environmental safeguards take into account the specific activity and environment that the operation is working in. For instance, an operator may design a marine seismic survey to avoid a particular time of the year where a sensitive marine species is migrating.
Operators regularly review their capabilities and assess new research and technologies in order to improve environmental protection.
Oil spill preparedness and response
Oil spill prevention is a major priority throughout the life-cycle of all exploration and production activities.
Spill prevention is achieved by sound design, construction and operating practices; maintenance of facilities; and high levels of environmental awareness, training and commitment among staff, contractors and managers.
Australia’s offshore petroleum safety, well integrity and environment regulatory regime is comprehensive and robust. It is considered to be leading practice among mature, developed petroleum-producing countries.
The industry assesses possible spill scenarios and works to reduce the risks. An oil spill “risk” covers both the likelihood of a spill occurring and the impact of any such spill. Each spill is a unique event that varies according to oil type (e.g. light, medium or heavy oil), season and location.
Identifying potential spills and reducing risk is integral to the initial design phase of any oil and gas facility. For example, oil pumps are engineered to prevent leakage. As a failsafe measure the design also incorporates shutdown devices that prevent spills if leakage does occur. The pumps are also contained within bund walls so that if a leak occurs the oil will not enter the marine environment. Risk management is used in appraising, engineering and installing all production equipment on offshore oil and gas platforms.
The Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre
Based in Geelong, Victoria, the Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre (AMOSC) provides services and equipment to safeguard the Australian coastline in the event of a major oil spill.
AMOSC is financed by 10 participating oil companies and other subscriber companies. These companies carry out the vast majority of the oil and gas production, offshore pipeline, terminal operations and tanker movements around the Australian coast.
AMOSC operates Australia’s major oil spill response equipment stockpile on 24 hour stand-by for rapid response anywhere around the Australian coast. The Geelong location places the response centre at the heart of oil movements in Australian coastal waters and provides excellent access to road and air transport.
Subsea First Response Toolkit
Based in Perth, the Subsea First Response Toolkit (SFRT) provides specialised equipment in Australia for immediate use at the start of a loss of subsea well control.
Funded by an industry consortium, the SFRT contains equipment to clean around the wellhead, enable intervention and prepare for drilling a relief well and installing a capping device.
As part of this initiative, the Australian oil and gas industry also established a 500 cubic metre stockpile of dispersant for use as part of a well source control system.