Environmental spill incidents
The State Government protects Western Australia’s natural environment by monitoring spill incidents and implementing a robust compliance and enforcement regime.
Approval and reporting obligations
All petroleum activities are required to have an Environment Plan (EP) and an Oil Spill Contingency Plan (OSCP) assessed and approved by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS).
The EP must describe the environmental performance objectives and environmental performance standards for hydraulic fracturing. It also must describe measures to bring the levels of risk and impact down to acceptable levels.
The OSCP must outline strategies for effective response in the event of spills. The operator must demonstrate that it has the appropriate resources, management structure, capacity and capability for the prevention, response, recovery and ongoing monitoring of any spills and impacts. An OSCP must account for all potential spill scenarios, including spills of chemicals and hydrocarbon spills.
Once activities commence, operators are required to report on their environmental performance and incidents to DMIRS. The reporting requirements are enforceable under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources (Environment) Regulations 2012 (the Regulations).
A reportable incident is an incident that has caused, or has the potential to cause, an adverse environmental impact and that environmental impact is categorised as “moderate” or “more serious than moderate”. Reportable incidents may include uncontrolled, high volume, loss-of-containment incidents, fire incidents or disturbance to environmentally sensitive areas. Oral or written notification of reportable incidents must be made to DMIRS as soon as practicable, and within two hours after the occurrence of the reportable incident, or at the time the operator becomes aware of the reportable incident. A written report of the reportable incident must be submitted to DMIRS within three days after the first occurrence of the reportable incident.
Between October 2012 and the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing that took effect in December 2017, two reportable spill incidents occurred at well sites where hydraulic fracturing operations had been conducted. Both incidents occurred during drilling operations and were spills of water-based drilling fluid. Both of these spills were cleaned up immediately and did not result in any lasting adverse environmental impacts.
A recordable incident is an incident that breaches an environmental performance objective or standard in the approved Environmental Plan for the activity. Recordable incidents may include low volume, loss-of-containment incidents and minor unplanned disturbance to native flora or fauna. For recordable incidents, each month, a written report must be provided to DMIRS as soon as practicable and within 15 days after the end of the month to which it relates. If no recordable incidents occurred during the month, the report must include a statement to that effect.
Between October 2012 and the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing that took effect in December 2017, a total of three recordable spill incidents were related to hydraulic fracturing: an industrial salt spill, a diesel spill and a hydraulic fluid spill. A total of 10 recordable spill incidents occurred at sites either before or after hydraulic fracturing activities took place. All of the incidents were low volume, immediately cleaned up and did not result in lasting adverse environmental impacts.
Follow up actions after a reportable or recordable incident
Written reports and corrective measures
When an environmental incident occurs, the operator must specify all material facts and circumstances concerning the incident, detail any action taken to avoid or mitigate any adverse environmental impacts, and any action taken or proposed to be taken to prevent similar incidents. This information is outlined in the incident report provided to DMIRS. The department reviews the report and determines whether the operator has taken adequate action.
In addition, there are separate requirements under the Environmental Protection Act 1986 and the Contaminated Sites Act 2003 that may apply if the spill incident is serious or has lasting adverse environmental impacts.
Annual reporting obligations
The Regulations require operators to report on compliance against their Environment Plan(s) on an annual basis. The report includes a review of incidents, meeting environmental performance objectives and environmental performance standards, and compliance with the implementation strategy within the environment plan.
Compliance and enforcement
If DMIRS determines that an environmental incident may have, or has, resulted in non-compliance with the Regulations and/or the approved Environment Plan, actions may be taken including the following:
- Undertake an environmental compliance inspection.
- Issue a warning.
- Issue a direction under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967.
- Withdraw Environment Plan approval
- Pursue prosecution.