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Australian offshore regulator reports no fatalities or major injuries in 2016

16 August 2017

The Australian National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) report for 2016 confirms that last year was the first since the establishment of a national safety regulator in 2005 that no fatalities or major injuries were reported. NOPSEMA CEO Stuart Smith said the improvement in many safety indicators had been achieved against a challenging background of falling oil and gas prices.

In the report’s executive summary, Smith said:

This year’s report continues our focus on sharing key findings from NOPSEMA’s inspections and other activities. These findings provide valuable insights into industry performance and identify specific areas for improvement.

Included in [the report] are detailed analyses of key NOPSEMA findings from occupational health and safety inspections covering loss of containment, dropped objects and diving systems, and environmental management inspections examining the management of planned discharges.

Despite another challenging year of falling oil and gas prices, it was encouraging to see improvement in many safety indicators. There were no fatalities or major injuries reported in 2016, which is the first time there have been no major injuries reported for a full year since the inception of NOPSA in 2005. Accident rates continued the downward trend observed since 2010 and the total number of injuries also decreased. Measures for process safety were less definitive with hydrocarbon releases increasing while dangerous occurrences decreased overall. From 2015 to 2016, there was a 28% increase in the total number of hydrocarbon releases reported to NOPSEMA. The majority of these releases were in the lower releases category (> 1-300 kg), but any uncontrolled hydrocarbon release warrant attention due to the risk of ignition and the potential widespread damage and associated threat to lives they could cause. Conversely, the number of dangerous occurrences reported fell by 17% with the majority relating to unplanned events. Analysis indicates that the vast majority of dangerous occurrences which required the implementation of emergency response plans were the result of false alarms or inadvertent manual call point activation due to human activities. These causes may provide reassurance to some, but NOPSEMA is concerned about the frequency of the occurrences and the risk of workforce complacency.

A proposal in 2016 to undertake exploration drilling in the Great Australian Bight divided opinion with support from some community groups and strong opposition from others. The proposal attracted environmental campaigns, increased media scrutiny and parliamentary inquiries. While the increased scrutiny related to a particular proposal and region, it reflected changing community expectations for consultation, engagement and transparency by the industry. These changing expectations place an onus on the regulator and industry to respond with actions that ensure maintenance of our social license to operate.

Among the factors that influence community acceptance of offshore oil and gas activity is the quality of the industry oil spill risk management arrangements. In 2016 NOPSEMA inspectors conducted a focused inspection program of seven titleholders with regard to oil spill risk management and visited the Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre (AMOSC) premises in Victoria and Western Australia. These targeted inspections supplemented the usual NOPSEMA inspection program and verified titleholder oil spill preparedness and response capabilities. The results of the inspections were encouraging.

Areas for improvement were also identified that are applicable to all titleholders operating in Australian waters. NOPSEMA recognises and supports the industry’s cooperative approaches to oil spill risk management as they provide oil spill risk reduction measures not possible on a single titleholder or activity basis. NOPSEMA also sees scope for the industry to continue expanding these cooperative efforts so oil spill risks are managed to as low as reasonably practicable.

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