The Offshore Alliance is calling on the oil and gas safety and environment regulator NOPSEMA (The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority) to ensure all operators clean up their sites after they are decommissioned.
In a submission to NOPSEMA, the Alliance, made up of the AWU and the Maritime Union of Australia, says companies such as Woodside must not be allowed to leave equipment on the seabed forever and must take responsibility to clean up their sites.
Woodside is currently seeking permission to leave around 400 tonnes of plastic on the seabed from its Echo-Yodel field, claiming it will form a reef to support marine life and so outweigh any environmental damage.
In the submission, the alliance notes that the Echo-Yodel site is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ with 65 offshore platforms and seven floating facilities due to cease production by 2026.
Daniel Walton, National secretary of the AWU, said Woodside and other major players must not be given a pass to clean up after themselves,
“It is completely possible to remove it responsibly; it’s just that Woodside doesn’t want to spend the money and employ the labour,” Mr Walton said.
“That’s a violation of the company’s social license, frankly.
“The economy could really use the employment currently, given COVID-19.”
Under current legislation, operators are required to remove all ‘equipment and property’ but exceptions can be made if they can demonstrate an alternative decommissioning approach ‘delivers equal or better environmental, safety and well integrity outcomes compared to complete removal’.
This alternative approach has allowed Woodside on two occasions to leave wellheads behind, a state of affairs that the Offshore Alliance says must end. It is urging NOPSEMA, which is reviewing its policies, to tighten up regulations.
Key recommendations for NOPSEMA:
- The burden of proof must be on companies to prove that their proposals to leave equipment in place are safe, and not for the regulator to prove that company proposals will have a negative impact.
- What is deemed an environmental outcome must be expanded to include the impact on the full lifecycle over multiple generations of all affected organisms and the associated ecosystem.
- An independent program of basic science on the impacts of relevant plastics in Australian marine ecosystems must also be properly funded.
- The new policy must ensure clear triggers and penalties are in place to ensure plans to cease production and remove equipment are put in place quickly.
- It is essential that a mechanism be found to ensure that oil and gas corporations are not able to evade their decommissioning responsibilities by selling titles or facilities.
“It is vital that NOPSEMA rejects Woodside’s proposal. If it’s given this pass, it will open up the floodgates to other operators to do the same and our pristine oceans and marine life will be the poorer for it,” added Mr Walton.
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