Seismic Testing in the PEP-11 region
On Friday 8 February, I was briefed by Lisa Schofield from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science on the government’s role in regulating offshore oil and gas activities.
The Department has begun holding drop-in sessions across Australia to provide information to community members and stakeholder on offshore activities, including in South Australia and Victoria. The drop-in session held in Newcastle last Thursday was not unique to our region, with the Department preparing a number of drop-in sessions in other parts of Australia over the next year. Despite there being a number of protestors in attendance at the Newcastle information session, there was also a number of community members, stakeholders, and representatives who asked thoughtful questions and sought information on the role of different State and Federal Government agencies in offshore oil and gas activities.
The Department is facilitating these information sessions to provide the general public in major cities across Australia with information relating to the Federal Government’s role in offshore oil and gas activities. The titleholders of PEP-11 are required to conduct their own consultation with community groups, non-government organisations, fishing, tourism and other government agencies. Evidence of public consultation must be provided to NOPSEMA, and demonstrate that the required consultation has been undertaken and relevant ongoing consultation arrangements have been made.
During my briefing, I was advised that there will be no seismic surveys conducted in the PEP-11 region in March 2019, with the leaseholders not having submitted an environment plan to NOPSEMA for approval. Unless an environment plan has been submitted by the leaseholders to NOPESMA, and have the approval of NOPSEMA, no seismic surveys of any kind can be undertaken. Documents which are required to be supplied with the environment plan include all consultation with persons whose functions, interests or activities may be affected by a proposed activity, and explain how the environment plan has addressed issues and concerns raised during consultation.
There have been some in our community falsely stating that seismic surveys will be occurring early this year, but, yet again, these claims are far from the truth. I have been assured by the Department that no exploration will be occurring during March 2019.
I have also been told that the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia will shortly be signing off on new regulations which will strengthen public consultation processes conducted by leaseholders. These changes will include publication of all environment plans submitted by companies before they undertake petroleum activities and a public consideration period for environment plans for offshore exploration activities. Contrary to some in our community, who have been suggesting that there was no consultation with people on the Central Coast, residents in my electorate of Robertson - in addition to electorates along the east coast to Newcastle - will continue to have the opportunity to express their views on this issue, and be provided with up-to-date information through NOPSEMA.
According to NOPSEMA, there has been a large body of international and Australian scientific research into the effect of underwater sound generated from seismic surveys. This research has indicated that the impacts of seismic surveys are temporary and, when the surveys are properly managed, seismic surveys do not result in serious or irreversible environmental damage.
The titleholders of a particular petroleum title are asked, when performing testing within the exploration permit, to minimise the environmental impacts of their activities, including eliminating or reducing noise impacts on the natural environment. This includes performing any activities outside of peak migration seasons for sea creatures such as whales, dolphins and fish.
I will continue to have discussions with the Department and the Minister for Resources on this important issue.
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