In 1999, the Australian Government commissioned a review into the adequacy of offshore safety regulation in Australia. The review sought to examine the day-to- day regulation of offshore safety which, at the time, was carried out by the states and the Northern Territory using a combination of prescriptive and goal-setting legislative rules. A key recommendation of the review was that the existing regulatory and legislative framework be revised to establish a single regulator for offshore safety. The recommendation was accepted by all state and Northern Territory governments and,
in 2005, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority (NOPSA) was established as the sole regulator for offshore health and safety in Commonwealth waters. Victoria also conferred on NOPSA its powers and functions for the regulation of offshore safety in Victorian waters.
While much had been achieved to improve offshore safety in Australia, in the years that followed NOPSA’s establishment a number of major offshore accidents became the unfortunate catalyst for further change. In 2008, a high pressure 12-inch export sales gas pipeline ruptured and exploded on the beach of Varanus Island off the coast of Western Australia. Another parallel pipeline then ruptured directing fires towards the onshore processing plant and causing several associated lines to rupture and ignite. In 2009, a failure of the Montara
H1 well integrity barriers in the Timor Sea, north of Australia, led to an oil spill and gas leak that lasted 74 days. A fire eventually destroyed the wellhead platform and the West Atlas jack-up drill rig. In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig suffered a loss of well control and major blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, United States (US). The accident killed 11 workers and led to the worst oil spill in US history lasting 87 days.
In 2010, the Australian Government commissioned an inquiry into the Montara blowout. The review made a strong recommendation for the existing framework to be revised again so that a single independent regulatory body be established to regulate offshore safety, well integrity, and environmental management.
The recommendation was accepted by the Australian Government and, in 2011, NOPSA’s remit was expanded to include the regulation of well integrity. On 1 January 2012, that remit further expanded to include the regulation of environmental management. To reflect its new responsibilities, NOPSA became known as NOPSEMA under section 645 of the OPGGS Act. In February 2014, following a detailed and comprehensive assessment, the Minister for the Environment endorsed NOPSEMA’s environmental management authorisation process. The Minister’s endorsement confirmed NOPSEMA as the sole environment regulator in Commonwealth waters by expanding NOPSEMA’s remit to include matters protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
NOPSEMA’s effectiveness to bring about improvements in offshore health and safety, well integrity and environmental management is independently reviewed every five years. The first review was undertaken in 2015 and found NOPSEMA to be demonstrating the characteristics of an effective regulator. The next review is scheduled for 2020.