Media Releases - 21 May 2021

ExxonMobil-BHP Bass Strait oil and gas field emerges as biggest decommissioning risk after the Northern Endeavour

The need to decommission old oil and gas infrastructure is a growing problem.

The Australian offshore oil and gas regulator has slapped Esso Australia (subsidiary of ExxonMobil) with a General Direction Notice to decommission a huge suite of its elderly, non-producing facilities and wells in Bass Strait. This is Australia’s oldest and longest-running field with assets dating back to 1969. Many of the affected facilities, wells and platforms have already ceased production.

Jess Lerch, National Corporate Campaigner for the Wilderness Society said, “NOPSEMA have issued a legal notice telling ExxonMobil that they can no longer cut and run and that after 50 years of oil and gas production, it’s time to clean up the mess or else. 

“Our analysis of NOPSEMA’s notice database shows that these ExxonMobil oil fields have accounted for 32 out of the 116 of all the published notices issued to Australia’s offshore petroleum industry. That’s over 27% of the industry’s regulatory actions and four times the notices ever provided to the operators of the Northern Endeavour.

“We welcome the regulator’s intervention here with the issuing of the general notice to decommission. Both ExxonMobil and the co-owner of these assets, BHP, had indicated their desire to sell them to other players. This is the same business model that led to the Northern Endeavour debacle.  

“If you put together the prior intent to cut and run from ExxonMobil and BHP, alongside what is the worst record of recidivism in environmental and safety breaches, this is a disaster in the making. 

“We don’t want delays in decommissioning combined with shortcuts in maintenance to put at risk the Wilderness Coast of East Gippsland with a giant oil spill. And the regulator agrees saying Esso’s 'ability to decommission appropriately is increasingly at risk the longer the period that elapses between cessation of production and completion of decommissioning activities’.

“And ExxonMobil only serves to place a bigger target on itself by responding to these events by criticising the new (and clearly required) offshore decommissioning levy brought in to pay for the Northern Endeavour cleanup saying it was unnecessary as it had proven it could safely decommission facilities around the world and shouldn’t have to help cover the costs of other companies unable to meet their obligations. 

“From our point of view, there’s a yawning gap between what they say and what they continue to fail to do,” Ms Lerch concluded.  

For further comment contact Tim Beshara on 0437878786.
Read NOPSEMA's full Direction notice.