Australian governments require petroleum companies to conduct their activities in a manner that meets a high standard of environmental protection. Of particular importance to the offshore petroleum exploration industry are the requirements of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and OPGGSA. Under these two Acts, there are four main environmental approvals that may be required for petroleum exploration industry activities. These are:
- an Environment Plan under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) (Management of Environment) Regulations 1999 (Environment Regulations);
- this is required for every operational (fieldwork) activity;
- approval under Chapter 4 of the EPBC Act to undertake an activity that may potentially impact on a matter of National Environmental Significance (NES);
- the most important matters of NES to offshore areas are Commonwealth marine areas, World Heritage areas, National Heritage areas, wetlands of international importance, threatened species and migratory species;
- approval under Chapter 5, Division 3, of the EPBC Act to undertake activities that may interfere with cetaceans (e.g. whales);
- this is only required at locations and times that cetaceans are likely to be present; and
- approval under Chapter 5, Division 4, of the EPBC Act to carry out activities in a Commonwealth Marine Reserve.
Penalties may apply to any activities in breach of the EPBC Act.
Further information on these approvals is provided below and in the accompanying publication An Overview for Applicants ("Red Book").
Information on the EPBC Act is available on the internet at www.environment.gov.au/epbc
The site also has information on previous decisions under the EPBC Act that may be of assistance in deciding whether to refer an intended action. A printed summary of the EPBC Act is also available in An Overview of Environment Protection and Biodversity Conservation Act, published in October 1999 by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Amendments were made to the EPBC Act on 7 December 2006. Details on these amendments can be found at:
National Environmental Significance (NES) and the EPBC Act
Companies proposing to undertake petroleum exploration or development activities are obliged, under the EPBC Act, to consider whether those activities are likely to have a significant impact on a matter of NES. The EPBC Act places the onus on the proponent to ensure an activity either does not significantly impact a matter of NES, or is approved by the Australian Government Environment Minister before proceeding.
The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) has developed an interactive database to provide further information on matters of NES (for example Ramsar wetlands, endangered species, World and National Heritage areas). The database is available at: www.environment.gov.au/erin/ert/epbc/index.html
Potential bidders are encouraged to consult this database with respect to a permit area of interest before finalising their work program bids.
If an applicant is unsure whether approval is required, the proposed activity can be referred to the Environment Minister for clarification on whether it would be a 'controlled action' for the purposes of the EPBC Act. In the first instance, preliminary advice on the referral process can be obtained from the Assistant Secretary, Environment Assessment Branch, DEWHA (Telephone: +61 2 6274 2240). Published guidelines are available at www.environment.gov.au/epbc or from the Community Information Unit on 1800 803 772 (free call within Australia only) or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
National Heritage List
The National Heritage List has been established to include places of outstanding heritage significance to Australia . The National Heritage List comprises places with natural, historic and/or Indigenous values. A place entered in the National Heritage List is known as a National Heritage Place. Each place in the List has been assessed by an independent body, the Australian Heritage Council, to determine whether the place has national heritage values. The Environment Minister makes the final decision on whether a place will be listed. Listed heritage places are protected and managed under a range of Commonwealth powers.
Places in the list are protected under the EPBC Act as matters of NES. Prior approval must be obtained before any action takes place which has, will have, or is likely to have, a significant impact on the national heritage values of a listed place. The EPBC Act covers not only actions that are taken within a national heritage place, but also those that are taken outside a place but may still have a significant impact on a listed value. Proposals for actions which could affect such values are rigorously assessed.
The National Heritage List is compiled and maintained by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and is available at: www.environment.gov.au/heritage/ahdb/index.html
Commonwealth Heritage List
The Commonwealth Heritage List, established under the EPBC Act, comprises natural, historic and Indigenous heritage places on Commonwealth land, in Commonwealth waters and within areas under Australian Government control. Places on the List have been assessed by the Australian Heritage Council as having Commonwealth heritage values.
Places in the Commonwealth Heritage List are also protected under the EPBC Act and actions that might adversely affect the environment of such places must be referred for assessment by the Environment Minister.
As of December 2008 there are 81 places on the National Heritage List, 17 places on the World Heritage List and 339 places included in the Commonwealth Heritage List. These lists include some offshore areas. The lists are stored on a database maintained by DEWHA and new places are added on an ongoing basis. It is recommended that potential bidders consult the database at: www.environment.gov.au/heritage
Under the Australian Heritage Council Act 2003, the Register of the National Estate (RNE) is Australia's national inventory of places of significant natural and/or cultural (historic and/or indigenous) heritage. The Environment Minister is required to consider information in the RNE when making decisions under the EPBC Act. Petroleum exploration and development activities that could significantly impact on the heritage values of RNE listed places should be referred under the EPBC Act, as these RNE values are part of the heritage values of the Commonwealth marine environment.
Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976
The Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (HS Act) protects historic shipwrecks and associated relics found in Australian waters from the low water mark to the edge of the continental shelf. Under the HS Act, all shipwrecks which are over 75 years old are protected, together with their associated relics, regardless of whether their actual locations are known. The Environment Minister can also make a declaration to protect any historically significant shipwrecks or relics that are less than 75 years old.
The HS Act aims to ensure that historic shipwrecks are protected for their heritage values and maintained for recreational and educational purposes. It also regulates activities that may result in the damage, interference, removal or destruction of an historic shipwreck or associated relic.
Under the HS Act:
- anyone who finds the remains of a shipwreck or relics associated with a shipwreck is required to give notification of the location as soon as practicable to the Environment Minister, and
- historic relics must not be removed, or the physical fabric of a wreck disturbed, unless a permit has been obtained.
The HS Act also provides for protected zones to be declared in order to enhance the protection of historic shipwrecks and relics which are of special significance or sensitivity or at particular risk of interference. Permits are required to enter protected zones, which can cover an area up to 200 hectares.
It should be noted that, although the HS Act does not currently provide for the protection of the natural environment associated with shipwrecks, these natural components form an integral part of historic shipwreck sites and are often critical to the long term preservation of shipwrecks and relics. Damage to these natural components can result in increased deterioration of shipwrecks and consequently affect the shipwrecks role as a marine habitat.
Further information about the HS Act can be obtained from the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts website: www.environment.gov.au/heritage/shipwrecks/index.html
Cetaceans and the EPBC Act
The 2009 Release of Offshore Petroleum Exploration Areas includes areas that are in recognised whale migration corridors and important aggregation areas.
A policy statement on the interaction between offshore seismic exploration and whales has been developed by DEWHA in consultation with the petroleum exploration industry, whale research scientists and conservation groups. The EPBC Act Policy Statement 2.1 - Interaction between offshore seismic exploration and whales, September 2008 can be obtained online at: www.environment.gov.au/epbc/publications/seismic.html
This Policy Statement provides guidance on the practical application of the EPBC Act to seismic surveying and assists proponents in addressing their legal obligations. The document outlines standard management measures (Part A) that should be used at all times when operating in Australian waters, and outlines additional management measures (Part B), which should be used in areas where there is a moderate to high likelihood of encountering whales.
Seismic surveys should not be proposed in areas where and when whales are likely to be breeding, calving, resting or feeding. If proposed, these surveys and associated mitigation measures will need careful consideration and may require further assessment under the EPBC Act.
Under the EPBC Act there is a requirement to obtain a permit for any activity impacting upon cetaceans, incidentally or otherwise, in Commonwealth waters. Cetaceans include whales, dolphins and porpoises. Further information on permits is provided in the EPBC Act Policy Statement 2.1 and may also be found at: www.environment.gov.au/epbc/permits/index.html
Marine Bioregional Planning
The Australian Government has embarked on a program of marine bioregional planning under the EPBC Act. Under the program, Marine Bioregional Plans will be developed for the five marine regions in Commonwealth waters by 2012. The program is in an early stage and the plans, once in place, will provide information to marine industries that will assist them in understanding their obligations under the EPBC Act, including matters of NES. The Plans will be established under section 176 of the EPBC Act, acting as a key document to inform the Environment Minister, industry and other stakeholders about the key conservation values and priorities in each marine region.
The marine bioregional planning process will include the identification and establishment of representative Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Commonwealth waters.
It is intended that exploration and production activities would be allowed within some MPAs, subject to appropriate approvals under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 and appropriate scrutiny under the provisions of the EPBC Act.
A number of areas in the 2009 release are in the vicinity of sensitive marine regions and may be subject to a higher level of environmental scrutiny, as described in the Notices for Specific Areas.
Further information on Marine Bioregional Planning can be found at: www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/index.html
Native Title Rights and Interests
Applicants should be aware that Aboriginal representative organisations may have interests in some release areas, particularly those that are closer to shore. It is recommended that successful applicants liaise closely with State heritage agencies, Native Title Representative Bodies and registered claimants on proposed exploration activities.
Contact details for Native Title Representative Bodies can be found on the Native Titles Representative Bodies website at: www.ntrb.net/PublicPages/Login.aspx
Ask First: A guide to respecting Indigenous heritage places and values provides a practical guide for land developers, land users and managers, cultural heritage professionals and many others who may have an impact on Indigenous heritage. Ask First can be downloaded from the Australian Heritage Council website at: www.environment.gov.au/heritage/ahc
To ensure that navigational safety requirements are met, successful applicants will be required to maintain close contact with the Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) well in advance of the commencement of, and during, seismic surveys and drilling operations in order that navigational warnings can be issues. This is especially important for operations in any permits granted over areas located on or near major shipping routes. For further information, see the Notices for Specific Areas.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority
Telephone (Maritime): 1800 641 792 (Free call within Australia only)
Telephone (Aviation): 1800 815 257 (Free call within Australia only)
Facsimile: 1800 622 153 (Free call within Australia only)
E-mail: RCCAus@amsa.gov.au (24hrs/365days)
All companies awarded petroleum exploration permits should initiate contact with Commonwealth and/or State fisheries management agencies and local fishing bodies concerning their exploration operations. This contact should be initiated at the earliest possible stage when planning operations. Radio contact is to be maintained with fishing operators in the area during exploration operations. In the first instance, it is suggested that contact be made with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and relevant State agencies for the latest information on appropriate contacts within relevant Management Advisory Committees or fishing industry organisations.
AFMA can be contacted at:
Australian Fisheries Management Authority
Environment Policy Section
PO Box 7051
Canberra BC ACT 2601
Telephone: +61 2 6225 5555
Facsimile: +61 2 6225 5446
Regular updated contact details for the AFMA officer handling petroleum exploration enquiries can also be found at: www.afma.gov.au/environment/other_factors/default.htm
AFMA wishes to stress the importance of removing debris, and requests that the successful applicant make every attempt to leave petroleum exploration areas free of obstruction. Where the removal of obstructions is not possible, peak fishing industry associations should be notified as soon as possible to ensure the safety of fishers. This is particularly important in the trawl fisheries: Commonwealth Trawl Fishery, Great Australian Bight Trawl Fishery, Northern Prawn Fishery, North West Slope Trawl Fishery and Western Deepwater Trawl Fishery.
It should also be noted that the spatial distribution and intensity of fishing activity throughout fishery regions can be highly variable over time. Although some of the proposed release areas for 2009 experienced little or no fishing activity in recent years, the level of activity may increase in the future. For this reason, it is requested that successful applicants liaise with AFMA regarding all petroleum exploration activities in Commonwealth waters, to ensure up-to-date information is provided concerning both activities and industry contact details.
For all release areas, successful applicants will be required to notify the Australian Hydrographic Office of any exploration activity including suspended well heads or proposed infrastructure developments. This will enable relevant navigational charts to be updated and the issue of appropriate navigational warnings. Contact details are provided below.
Some of the areas in the 2009 release coincide with military restricted airspace. When activated by a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), the restricted airspace can operate down to low altitudes including, at times, to sea level. Non-Defence flying operations are required to be conducted in accordance with NOTAM restrictions.
Successful applicants will need to liaise with Air Force Headquarters (AFHQ) during the planning phase and to notify any exploration activity. Title holders will need to provide positions and dimensions (lateral and vertical) of all associated fixed and mobile infrastructure including drilling rigs. Additionally, Headquarters Air Command (HQAC) requires advice, within 48 hours, of any change in position of exploration activities to avoid conflict with Defence exercise activity. Contact details are set out below.
Offshore areas may coincide with Military Exercise Areas (MEAs) or Defence Practice Areas (DPAs). successful applicants are advised that the Minister for Defence has the authority, under the Defence Force Regulations 1952, to declare and Gazette any area of sea or air space as a DPA, for carrying out Defence operations or practice as specified in a NOTAM or a Notice to Mariners (NOTMAR). When a DPA is activated, unauthorised access to the area will be prohibited.
As there is potential for unexploded ordnance on the sea floor in either MEAs or DPAs, applicants should be aware of the risks involved in conducting exploration activities. In addition, as training exercises can take place at any time and often involve the use of live fire, permit holders must consult with the Department of Defence to minimise the applicant's own risk. Details of 2009 release areas that coincide with MEAs or DPAs are provided in the Notices for Specific Areas.
Locations of restricted and prohibited areas, including maps, are listed in Annual Australian NOTAM and Australian Annual NOTMAR publications, which are available from the Royal Australian Air Force Aeronautical Information Service website (Designated Airspace Handbook) and the RAN Hydrographic Office website (available under 'Annual Notices') respectively (see addresses below).
The following Defence contacts will be able to advise of planned Defence activities in specific areas:
Executive Officer - Property Management
Directorate of Property Services (DPS)
Department of Defence
Canberra ACT 2609
Telephone: +61 2 6266 8640
Facsimile: +61 2 6266 8429
Australian Hydrographic Office
Mr Mark Bolger
Manager Nautical Assessment and Maintenance
Locked Bag 8801
Wollongong NSW 2500
Telephone: +61 2 4223 6590
Facsimile: +61 2 4223 6599
Air Force Headquarters (AFHQ)
Telephone: +61 2 6265 6337
Headquarters Air Command (HQAC)
Telephone: +61 2 6128 4810
Royal Australian Navy
Staff Officer Navy Basing Policy
Department of Defence
Canberra ACT 2600
Telephone: +61 2 6265 5177
Facsimile: +61 2 6265 2036
Border Protection Command
The Border Protection Command (BPC) is responsible for offshore maritime security and should be provided with details of any proposed activities to be conducted within release areas no less than 14 days prior to undertaking the task. BPC should also be kept appraised of any ongoing activities within these areas.
The point of contact for BPC is email@example.com
Telecommunication (Submarine) Cables
Permit holders can contact an information number 1800 652 388 (free call within Australia ) to obtain cable position information. Successful applicants need to be aware that the Government has recently enacted legislation to protect submarine telecommunications cables. The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Protection of Submarine Cables and Other Measures) Act 2005 provides for a protection zone to extend one nautical mile on each side of certain submarine telecommunications cables. Under the Act, petroleum exploration activities may be restricted or prohibited in a protection zone. Successful applicants should contact the Australian Communications and Media Authority on +61 3 9963 6717 for further information.
Under the OPGGSA, successful applicants are required to maintain adequate insurance against expenses or liabilities in relation to activities pursuant to the exploration permit, including the expenses of complying with directions with respect to remedying the effects of the escape of petroleum.
Any further Special Notices and related issues will be advised in Australian Petroleum News, which can be accessed at www.ret.gov.au/petexp
Applicants are strongly encouraged to register their e-mail, address and contact details with the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (RET), Exploration Section (details can be e-mailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The mailing list is not used for any purpose other than disseminating petroleum information from RET, such as the annual offshore petroleum acreage release package, the awarding of permits, changes to guidelines or legislation, and advice on when new editions of Australian Petroleum News are posted on the Internet. There is no charge for this service.