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Oil and Gas Exploration

Oil and Gas Exploration (Question No. 2591)

Senator Siewert asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, upon notice, on 2 February 2010: Given that the company responsible for the Montara oil leak disaster, PTTEP Australasia Limited (PTTEP AA), has bought a participation interest in the Woodside Browse Basin oil and gas exploration program:

(1)
    (a) Are there concerns about the involvement of PTTEP AA in the Browse Basin oil and gas exploration; and (b) what steps has the Minister taken about the involvement of PTTEP AA in oil and gas exploration that is in close proximity to Scott Reef and the world-significant Kimberley coast.
(2)
    Has the Minister considered Woodside’s application to base its drilling operations on top of, or adjacent to, the environmentally-sensitive Scott Reef; if so, what action has been taken.
(3)
    Will the Minister be advising the Minister for Resources and Energy regarding the approval process for the proposed PTTEP AA involvement in the Browse Basin joint venture.
(4)
    Will PTTEP AA be directly involved in any drilling or related operations in this area if this participation is approved.
(5)
    Has the Minister taken any action to improve regulatory oversight and compliance enforcement of operations concerning oil and gas exploration and production activities in the Browse Basin to ensure that a disaster like Montara does not occur again; if not, why not.

Senator Wong—The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)
    (a), (b) A Commission of Inquiry is currently underway and the cause of the Montara incident is not yet known. Each proposal referred to my Department under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act will continue to be considered on its merits, including, as required by the Act, having regard to the environmental record of the proponent.
(2)
    This proposed development was referred in 2008 by Woodside Energy Limited (EPBC 2008/4111). A draft Environmental Impact Statement is currently being prepared by the proponent which will be released for public comment. Once the assessment process is complete all mandatory considerations required under the EPBC Act, as well as the environmental history of the person taking the action, will be taken into account when a decision is made on whether or not this proposal can proceed.

(3)
    No.

(4)
    This is a question for the Minister for Resources.
(5)
    Each oil and gas proposal referred to my Department will continue to be considered on a case by case basis and continue to take into account the likelihood of an uncontrolled release of hydrocarbons. The Montara incident has shown that the potential extent and duration of a wellhead leak can be greater than previously considered although the likelihood of such events is still considered to be low. As such, the Department has adapted the assessment of offshore petroleum and gas drilling proposals (both exploration and production) to reflect the known consequences of the Montara incident.

The Montara Commission of Inquiry is designed to determine the operational, human and regulatory factors surrounding the oil spill and therefore, it is inappropriate to speculate at this early stage as to how the outcomes of the Inquiry may be used to improve regulatory oversight and compliance enforcement.

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