Bight audit must examine regulator's handling of community submissions and complaints

23 Jul 2020

Posted May 24, 2019

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick has called on the Government's audit into the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) to include an examination of the regulator's handling and regard to community submissions and complaints.

On May 16, Ministers Canavan and Price announced they would commission the Chief Scientist to undertake an independent audit of NOPSEMA's current consideration of exploration in the Great Australian Bight (GAB).

Centre Alliance is opposed to exploration and drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

"While the audit proposed by the Government is a cop-out when the views of most South Australians are considered, it may be able to tackle the very lax attitude that NOPSEMA has demonstrated in response to a complaint that I have raised with them," said Rex.

Senator Patrick has complained to NOPSEMA about its decision to permit seismic surveying in the GAB near Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island later this year. His complaint is still under consideration, but the initial response has raised concerns about the weighting that it is giving to the industry it is regulating.

Senator Patrick is pursuing the fact that:

  • NOPSEMA has not used the best available data for its sound prediction modelling, which means their analysis about the range at which the very loud acoustic noise used in surveying will have a detrimental effect on marine life is almost certainly underestimated.
  • NOPSEMA thinks having only two operators of the passive acoustic sea life monitoring equipment onboard the survey vessel in the context of a 24/7 continuous operation is adequate.
  • NOPSEMA seems to have ignored the submission by seismic surveying company PGS that the performance of the proposed passive acoustic sea life monitoring equipment onboard the survey vessel is questionable - trying to listen for marine life from a vessel with a very loud “air gun” noise fitted to it is like trying to listen to a quiet conversation on the other side of a room while standing next to somebody conducting a drum solo.

Their initial response to these issues raises considerable concern about the organisation’s judgement, including the weighting it has given to the proponent's proposals. NOPSEMA must approach any approval with the highest possible standard and there cannot be a 'she'll be right' attitude or an apprehension of bias - or actual bias - in its decision making.

"I feel that their response has been lax," said Rex. "And if they are lax to a Senator then I fear that it will be even more lax towards constituents."

"In proceeding with the proposed audit the former Chief Scientist must closely examine how NOPSEMA is weighting and regarding community submissions and complaints in their decision making. This should be in the Government's terms of reference".

"The NOPSEMA process needs to give the necessary weight to the submissions from the community across southern Australia, especially to coastal communities such as those in Mayo," said Centre Alliance Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie.

"The impact of a major oil spill would be catastrophic on our community and that needs to be taken into account. This is why I’m reintroducing my Private Member’s Bill which would grant National Heritage protection to the Bight and lift the bar of environmental protection."

A copy of Senator Patrick's complaints and NOPSEMA's initial response can be found here.

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