Environment Minister delegates offshore petroleum permitsHome > News and Events  > News 

THE POWER TO APPROVE offshore oil and gas projects has been handed today to a government agency by the Environment and Industry Ministers.

Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane and Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt named the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) as the sole assessor for offshore petroleum exploration and extraction in Australian waters.

In a statement, Mr Hunt said the move would 'streamline' approvals for oil and gas development.

"The one-stop shop will maintain strong environmental safeguards and high environmental standards through a more streamlined process. There is no need to have two approvals processes when one can provide the same level of environmental protection," he said.

Previously, projects were assessed either under Australia's environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) or the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act (OPGGS Act).

Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association chief executive David Byers welcomed the move, saying it would mean clearer approvals processes.

"By eliminating unnecessary duplication, this move will save taxpayers and industry millions of dollars without impairing environmental outcomes. It will reduce costs and delays for companies undertaking offshore exploration and production activities. But it will also reduce costs for regulatory agencies and taxpayers," he said in a statement.

However Matthew Collis, marine campaigns manager at International Fund for Animal Welfare condemned the action, saying it amounted to Mr Hunt doing himself out of a job.

"Decisions about extremely environmentally risky activities in Australian waters should be taken by the Environment Minister and he should be accountable to Parliament and the public for these decisions. He should not be palming off his responsibilities."

NOPSEMA was established by former Energy Minister Martin Ferguson in the wake of the Montara oil spill, in the Timor Sea in 2009. It aimed to give co-ordinated oversight to health and safety issues for offshore petroleum activities.

Its chief executive, Jane Cutler is a veteran of the petroleum industry, having previous been a senior executive for Woodside Energy.

Under the new rules, developers will be required to submit an 'offshore project proposal', which will be displayed for public comment. Work must conform to an 'environment plan' also to be approved by NOPSEMA.

Collis said apart from the perception of conflict of interest arising from having petroleum executives assessing oil and gas projects, he had concerns that NOPSEMA wouldn't have the environmental knowledge to make informed decisions about potential ecological impacts.

"One of the issues we've be raising throughout this process is do they have the necessary expertise to assess environmental matters."