Australia: NOPSEMA needs more time to assess BP’s drilling plan

Australian oil and gas safety body National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) will be taking more time to assess BP’s proposed drilling plan for the Great Australian Bight.

BP submitted its second drilling plan in August after its first one that had proposed drilling four wells had been rejected. NOPSEMA had said that it would make a decision by September 19. The decision, however, has now been postponed, and NOPSEMA expects to deliver its next assessment decision for this plan by September 29, 2016.

BP, as operator of the Great Australian Bight Exploration Drilling Programme, proposes to drill the first two wells in that programme.

The wells are Stromlo-1 and Whinham-1 respectively and will be drilled using the world’s largest semi-submersible drilling rig, the Ocean Greatwhite.

Stromlo-1 is located approximately 600 kilometers west of Port Lincoln and 400km southwest of Ceduna, in a water depth of approximately 2250m. Whinham-1 is located approximately 600 kilometers west of Port Lincoln and 350 kilometers southwest of Ceduna, in a water depth of approximately 1150m.

The drilling program is scheduled to start from Q4 2016 to Q1 2017. It is anticipated that each well will take approximately 75 days to drill. In the event of any technical or equipment delays the duration may be greater, so the assessment for each of the wells has allowed for up to 150 days.

This drilling activity is a subset of the broader activity covered by the  proposed Great Australian Bight Exploration Drilling Environment Plan (“GAB EP”), for which BP has an Opportunity to Modify and Resubmit by 31 December 2016. The first two wells, covered by this EP, will be excised from the scope of the GAB EP before it is resubmitted.

Greens against drilling

BP’s proposed drilling in the area has been under fire by the Australian Greens party, following a recent report by The Guardian which said that the rig BP plans to use might have faulty equipment aboard. Specifically, it has been reported that the Ocean GreatWhite drilling rig, could be fitted with faulty subsea bolts, which could lead to an oil spill in “in the middle of a commonwealth marine reserve.”

In February this year, the U.S. offshore safety regulator the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement warned the oil and gas industry of a recurring problem with connector and bolt failures in various components used in risers and subsea blowout preventers used in offshore operations. The BSEE then warned the failures had the potential to lead to a catastrophic event.

After the release of the Guardian’s article, the Greens called for NOPSEMA not to rush with the decision on the proposed drilling program. Subsequently, the Green party said t would propose a bill to the Senate that would see the Great Australian Bight marine park “protected from companies wanting to drill for oil and gas.”

“The Parliament has to step in and make sure that this this national treasure is protected for generations to come,” said South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. “BP will put this spectacular marine park at risk and, if they’re given approval, there are several other companies lining up behind them.

“Allowing the company responsible for the Gulf of Mexico spill to drill in the Great Australian Bight is a disaster waiting to happen.”


APPEA, a body representing the oil and gas industry in Australia, has warned that a ban on drilling in the Great Australian Bight would possibly increase Australia’s dependence on imported oil and “deprive South Australia of much-needed new investment and jobs while delivering no environmental benefit.”

The organization’s director for South Australia, Mathew Doman, said: “The legislation proposed by the Greens would undermine NOPSEMA’s independence and integrity and the regulatory certainty that is necessary to attract new investment in offshore exploration.

“Australia already imports most of its oil. Unless new discoveries are made, we will soon be relying on imports for all of our transport fuels.”

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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