Australian watchdog needs more time to decide on BP’s drilling plans

Great Australian Bight
Image: BP

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) informed on Wednesday it needs more time to reach an initial decision on BP’s proposal to undertake exploration drilling in the Great Australian Bight (GAB)

Namely, on October 1, 2015, BP submitted an environment plan proposing exploration drilling in the Great Australian Bight to NOPSEMA for assessment.

The drilling area is the previously acquired Ceduna 3D seismic survey area, which covers 12,100 km2 across Exploration Permit for Petroleum (EPP) EPP 37, EPP 38, EPP 39 and EPP 40. BP and Statoil are the registered titleholders of EPPs 37, 38, 39 and 40, with BP being the Operator.

BP proposed to drill four exploration wells in Commonwealth marine waters in the GAB. The project is scheduled to start in the summer of 2016-2017, with each well taking between 45 and 170 days to drill. The wells will be drilled using a dynamically positioned semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU).

Water depths in the drilling area range between 1,000 and 2,500 m Lowest Astronomical Tide. At the closest point, the drilling area is located approximately 395 km west of Port Lincoln and 340 km southwest of Ceduna in South Australia (SA).

According to BP, the purpose of the drilling program is to determine whether the target formations have commercially recoverable volumes of hydrocarbons.

However, under the regulations, a petroleum activity may not start before the relevant environment plan has been assessed and accepted by NOPSEMA. This acceptance relates to the exploration drilling activity only, and any further activities (including developments) are subject to additional assessment processes.

The safety authority said on Wednesday that BP’s proposed drilling program has attracted significant community interest.

BP needs to demonstrate risk management

NOPSEMA Chief Executive Officer, Stuart Smith, said: “The environmental assessment process requires BP to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment and clearly demonstrate to NOPSEMA how they will manage the environmental impacts and risks of their proposed activity in order for their environment plan to be accepted.

“Ensuring that BP has considered and addressed stakeholder concerns is an important part of NOPSEMA’s environmental assessment process. The environment plan must also include a comprehensive oil pollution emergency plan that outlines the detailed arrangements that will be in place to respond to and monitor any environmental impacts in the unlikely event of an oil spill.”

Smith added: “BP’s environment plan is currently being assessed by NOPSEMA’s dedicated environmental assessment team, which is staffed by highly qualified and experienced environmental and oil spill response experts.

“The law requires NOPSEMA to notify the titleholder of its initial decision within 30 days of any environment plan submission.

“That notification may involve NOPSEMA determining that additional time is required to consider the environment plan.

“In this instance, BP has been informed that NOPSEMA will require additional time to assess the submission.

“The law allows NOPSEMA to take as much time as required to ensure a professional, thorough and rigorous assessment,” Smith concluded.

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