Written by Environmental Manager editor Deborah Nesbitt
Federal resources minister Josh Frydenberg has scrambled to fix a problem created by his department which invalidly renewed or extended offshore oil & gas leases by failing to seek the federal environment minister’s consent.
Frydenberg on February 10 revealed an audit discovered “offshore petroleum titles with ‘prior usage rights’ have been subject to incorrect renewal and extension processing”.
Fed environment minister not consulted
Titles overlapping Commonwealth marine reserves were invalidity renewed or extended between 2008 and 2015, it found. To retrospectively validate the titles “enabling titleholders to continue their operations as per usual”, on Feb 11 Frydenberg (above) rushed an Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (OPGGS) Amendment Bill (2016) into parliament.
The audit found the federal environment minister’s consent was not sought as required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act “for a number of ‘prior usage rights’ petroleum titles due to an administrative oversight”, an explanatory memorandum said. “A petroleum title is a ‘prior usage right’ under the EPBC Act if the title was in force immediately before the proclamation of a C’wealth reserve that overlaps the title area,” it said. Under s359(3) of the EPBC Act, a prior usage right title could only be renewed or extended with the environment minister’s consent.
The errors were made by “joint authorities” under the (OPGGS) Act – state and C’wealth energy and resources ministers or their dept delegates. “Importantly, this is a technical issue that has not had an impact on the environmental requirements associated with the titles,” the memorandum claimed.
The Bill was “the only way to satisfactorily eliminate the risk affected decisions pose for titleholders”, the memorandum said.
Greens upset at govt deal with Labor
Frydenberg (above) said the Bill would “proceed with bipartisan support” after consultation with the Opposition, upsetting Greens senators. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said it was “concerning that it wasn’t even considered that these leases would need environmental approval”. Siewert said she’d refer the Bill for inquiry.
Federal trade and investment minister Andrew Robb told parliament: “Despite the oversight … the govt is confident that all petroleum titleholders have undertaken their activities in good faith. They have continued to be subject to, and compliant with, the stringent environmental management requirements set out under the OPGGS Act and environment regulations.”Frydenberg said all titleholders would be subjected to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority’s scrutiny.
(This story first ran in Environmental Manager Issue 1036, 16 February 2016)
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