Aug 24, 2009

Transcript of Press Conference, Sydney

Transcript of Press Conference, Sydney

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,

Regional Development and Local Government

Leader of the House

Member for Grayndler

Subject: West Atlas Oil Leak

Monday, 24 August 2009

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Last Friday, people will be aware that there was a major oil spill that has continued to take place over recent days.

It’s clear that this will take some weeks before the issue can be resolved satisfactorily. In the meantime, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority is in charge of both containment and then the clean-up operation, along with a number of Federal and State Government agencies.

It is important to note that so far, the oil spill has been successfully dealt with, to the extent that aerial observations this morning indicate that the dispersant is being effective in thinning out the oil spill, which along with evaporation, means that the situation is being contained.

But this is a very serious incident. Government agencies were deployed straightaway. The National Plan for Action on Oil Pollution was put into gear last Friday. A Hercules C-130 aircraft arrived from Singapore on Saturday. It is available, as well as two other aircraft, to spray the dispersant on the oil slick and that has occurred once again today.

We will continue to undertake this action each and every day in order to contain the spill and then clean it up.

QUESTION: Minister, is this just one of the prices we pay for the resources we have?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly there’s no doubt that this is a regrettable incident. No-one would want an incident such as this to have occurred. What we need to do is to make sure that we take every action that we can to contain the spill and to clean up this incident.

QUESTION: Obviously a lot of parties are involved in this. I was under the impression that the Geelong-based oil spill response team was seen as one of the only ones in the country to respond to [indistinct] Australian-based team to respond to a crisis like this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s not right. Indeed, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority have a permanent presence in Western Australia, in Perth. It is the agency that’s responsible for coordination when an incident such as this occurs.

Oil dispersants, for example, are present in nine different locations around the country, so that immediately there’s an incident, wherever it is, that can be deployed.

Up to now, for example, some two tonnes of dispersant have been used. All of that was present in Darwin prior to the incident, ready to be used.

So it is the case, that whilst this is a regrettable incident, some of the commentary simply hasn’t been accurate from the Liberal spokesperson and also from the Greens.

QUESTION: We have sources in that area in Western Australia who tell us that there’s actually been a history of instability at that rig. Are you, or is the Government aware of this? Or the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority, have they been notified about this history of instability of the rig?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, certainly NOPSA need to answer responses of which they’re the appropriate authority. I’m in charge of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, but NOPSA could respond to that question.

QUESTION: So are you aware of this history of instability?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: NOPSA can respond to that question.

QUESTION: What’s being done then to ensure the safety and stability of these rigs if there is a history of [indistinct]?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I can’t comment on the history. That is something for NOPSA to answer.

But what’s occurred here is that immediately when the incident occurred, of course the first concern would be the safety of the workforce. And that workforce was evacuated successfully, without any injuries to the workforce involved. That was successfully done last Friday, then immediately the National Plan came into action.

QUESTION: How much is the clean-up expected to cost?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The concern that the Government has isn’t the cost of the clean-up. We want to make sure that it’s got right, and that no corners will be cut, to ensure that maximum effort is made to minimise any impact of this oil spill.

The company has agreed with the Government that they will take responsibility for the cost of the clean-up. That is as it should be. Certainly, at this stage, it would be premature to put a final cost, but we know that it will be many millions of dollars.

QUESTION: Is there still that guarantee, Minister, that the Australian coastline is safe?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly the fact is that at the moment it looks to be the case that the coastline isn’t under threat from this oil slick. It has been contained. It is not moving towards the coast, and the dispersant is being successful in thinning out the oil slick.

But we need to keep an ongoing vigilance regarding monitoring what’s going on there. We can’t take anything for granted. This is a serious incident and I wouldn’t like to downplay at all the seriousness of this incident.

We need to make sure that it’s all hands on deck in terms of monitoring and taking whatever action is required to minimise the impact on the environment in that region.

QUESTION: Good luck or good management, it’s something that we don’t hear a lot, off our coastline this sort of incident. In the future will the Government look at the way that it handles leases or distributes those to companies based on future operations?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: This particular site was approved under the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act by the former government in 2003. As part of the EPBC approval process, these issues, including environmental considerations, have to be given full and proper consideration.

My understanding is that that was approved in 2003, though, there’ll need to be an examination, including by the Environment Department, to ensure that all of the conditions that were contained in that approval have been complied with.

And we need to, after any incident such as this, go back, have a look at how the issue’s been handled and see if there are any lessons to be learnt to make improvements into the future.

QUESTION: So, you’re talking about the future, what’s the Government been doing in the past to regulate [indistinct]?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Australia has the world’s best practice when it comes to the oil and gas industry. We have very strict provisions which are put in place, including the fact that such a major industry needs to go through approval under the EPBC Act. That is all in place. This was approved, as I said, by the former government in 2003.

QUESTION: How long do you think this is going to take to [indistinct]?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The advice that I have received is that it will be a number of weeks. This, of course, is a remote location and it’s a very complex operation.

We need to make sure that we get it right and there unfortunately isn’t a quick fix to this. We need to be honest about this. We need to make sure that we do it as soon as possible and that certainly is the case.

As I understand it, the plan is for another oil rig to be sent from Singapore for it to be established and for there to be procedures put in place which will ensure a plugging of the existing oil leak.

In the meantime, we need to make sure that the oil spill is contained and that all measures are taken that are possible to ensure that any damage is minimised.

QUESTION: Minister, how far in advance of you finding out or the Government finding out was the leak?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We were notified immediately on Friday. And the national plan was activated on Friday, on the very same day.

QUESTION: If so much industry is going on in that area, does this ring alarm bells with the Government [indistinct] regulation?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We believe that in terms of regulation, Australia has in place already the world’s best practice when it comes to regulation of the oil and gas industry.

We will have a full examination of the details of what’s occurred here and, if any lessons can be learnt that lead to changes being made, then that will be done. And I’m sure that the industry, as well as the Government, would want that to occur.

But the immediate priority has to be containing this spill and working towards the cleanup so that we minimise the damage that’s occurred.

Thanks very much.