Australia: New Petroleum (Environment) Regulations commence in the NT

There are significant changes between the draft and final versions of the Regulations, including an expanded definition of a "regulated activity".

New environmental regulations have commenced in the Northern Territory to achieve a best-practice environmental regulatory regime for the NT oil and gas industry.

On 28 June 2016, an amended version of the draft Petroleum (Environment) Regulations was approved by the NT Executive Council and signed by the Administrator. The new Regulations came into force on 6 July 2016.

The draft Regulations

We previously examined the key features of the draft Petroleum (Environment) Regulations which were released in March this year for public consultation. In addition to releasing the draft Regulations for public consultation, the NT Government engaged international expert Dr Tina Hunter to provide an independent assessment of the draft Regulations.

After consideration of both Dr Hunter's independent assessment and feedback from stakeholders and the community, the Government provided the following responses:

Under the Petroleum Amendment Bill 2016, which was passed by the NT Legislative Assembly on 26 May 2016 and received assent on 8 June 2016, regulations can be made under the Act for the protection of the environment that prescribe:

  • the functions and powers of the Minister; and
  • the way in which the Minister may perform those functions and exercise those powers, including the exercise of his discretion.

With the commencing of the amendments to the Petroleum Act, the draft Regulations could be approved (with amendment) and came into force on 6 July 2016.

What's different?

The key differences between the draft and final versions of the Regulations at a glance are:

Regulated activity

The definition of a "regulated activity" now expressly includes hydraulic fracturing and transportation (not just storage) of petroleum and hazardous substances.

In the draft Regulations, Schedule 1 detailed the information that was to be included in the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for a regulated activity and specified the details to be included if the activity was hydraulic fracturing. Therefore, hydraulic fracturing was always contemplated as a regulated activity and the amendment simply clarifies this position.

EMP content and form

The draft Regulations provided that an EMP could relate to more than one regulated activity, whether the activities are to be carried out under the same or different petroleum interests or by the same or different interest holders.

This is no longer the case in the new Regulations, which expressly provide that the EMP must relate to only one regulated activity, regardless of whether the activity is to be carried out in one or more locations.

Stakeholder engagement

In relation to stakeholder engagement, amendments were made to require the interest holder to do the following before an EMP is submitted for assessment:

  • the interest holder must undertake a preliminary assessment of the environmental risks;
  • the interest holder must give all stakeholders comprehensive information about the activity;
  • the interest holder must give stakeholders an opportunity to respond;
  • the interest holder must provide extensive information in the EMP about how the interest holder has amended the EMP to take on board the concerns of interest holders; and
  • the interest holder must account for future stakeholder engagement in the plan.
  • The definition of "stakeholder" was also amended to

include a person or body whose rights or activities may be directly affected by the environmental impacts or environmental risks 1 of the regulated activity proposed to be carried out or an agent or representative of that person or body.

Approval criteria for EMPS

In the draft Regulations the EMP was to (amongst other things) contain information necessary to demonstrate that the regulated activity will be carried out in a manner consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development (ESD) and the Minister was to apply those principles when considering whether an EMP meets the approval criterion.

Amendment was made to instead require that the Minister to take into account the principles of ESD when making a decision about an EMP. In its response to Dr Hunter's independent assessment, the Government states that this amendment, along with the stakeholder engagement amendments outlined above, is to ensure a strong connection between the principles of ESD and the stakeholder engagement process. The example given in the response, is that if the Minister is of the view that the stakeholder engagement that has taken place does not reduce environmental impacts risks to a level that is acceptable, that is valid grounds for refusing to approve the plan.

Public feedback raised concern in relation to the term "good oilfield practice" as an approval criterion and how it was difficult to quantify. In her report, Dr Hunter stated that "good oilfield practice" was incompatible with the other standard of "as low as reasonably practicable" included in the draft Regulations as:

The concept of "good oilfield practice" has been removed as an approval criterion as the Government deemed the other requirements (ie. the requirement that environmental impacts and environmental risks of the activities to be reduced to a level that is "as low as reasonably practicable" and "acceptable" and consideration of the principles of ESD) as superior for approval criterion.

Approval process

The "30 days" period for the Minister to make a decision on an EMP has been replaced with "90 days". However, "30 days" will remain for where the Minister is to consider an EMP that is modified in response to a resubmission notice.

The draft Regulations contained a concept of "partial approvals" whereby the Minister could approve part of an EMP where that part met the approval criterion. This concept has been removed in the final Regulations and the Minister can only make the following decisions in relation to the submitted EMP:

  • if reasonably satisfied that the plan meets the approval criteria:
  • approve the plan, with or without conditions; and
  • give the interest holder an approval notice and statement of reasons for the approval; or
  • if not reasonably satisfied that the plan meets the approval criteria – give the interest holder a notice (a resubmission notice) specifying:
  • the Minister is not reasonably satisfied that the plan meets the approval criteria; and
  • the reasons why the Minister is not reasonably satisfied; and
  • a reasonable period within which the interest holder may modify the plan and submit it for approval; or
  • if satisfied that more than 90 days will be required to make a decision as per the above – give the interest holder a notice setting out a proposed timetable for consideration of the plan.

The Minister is now also required to provide a Statement of Reasons which will published along with an approval or refusal notice, as the case may be.

Revision of EMPS

A revision of an EMP is now only triggered by the following:

  • when there is a new or increased environmental risk or impact;
  • at least 90 days (was previously 30 days) before the end of each period of five years, starting on the latest of the day the original EMP or revision approval was given or a day specified in a notice by the Minister; and
  • where the Minister is reasonably satisfied that a current EMP requires revision.

Where a modification to a regulated activity is proposed or there is a change in the existing environment and a revision is not required (ie. it does not fall within the scope of the above triggers) an interest holder will only be required to give notice to the Minister of the modification or change in the existing environment.

Records to be kept

The prescribed records for the activity2 must be kept for the longer of the following periods:

  • five years following the period during which the petroleum interest for the activity is in force (in the draft Regulations this was the period during which the petroleum interest for the activity was in force); or
  • 15 years after the record comes into existence.


Liability for contravention of the regulations now applies to any "person" (which includes a person or body corporate) when previously it only applied to the "interest holder". This means that liability will now apply to an interest holder and to a subcontractor engaged by the interest holder to perform an obligation.

New infringement notice offence provisions have been inserted into the final Regulations in relation to the provisions or revision of an EMP as outlined above.

Recordable incident

Failure to give a written report to the Minister about recordable incidents remains as an offence, but the definition of "recordable incident" has been amended to clarify that it is an incident which still caused an environmental risk or impact that was not provided for in the EMP but is less severe than material or serious environmental harm.

Therefore, the definition of "recordable incident" is now an incident arising from a regulated activity that:

  • has resulted in an environmental impact or environmental risk not specified in the current plan for the activity; or
  • has resulted in a contravention of an environmental performance standard specified in the current plan for the activity; or
  • is inconsistent with an environmental outcome specified in the current plan for the activity; and
  • is not a reportable incident3.

Transitional provisions

The transitional provisions have been removed and it is understood that a transitional plan for existing EMP approvals is currently being finalised and will be included in future amendments to the Petroleum Act.

What next?

The Government has already released a guide to the new Regulations and it is understood that it will also prepare a series of guidelines to address4:

  • Overall requirements for an EMP;
  • Risk management;
  • Well construction and integrity;
  • Well decommissioning;
  • Baseline and ongoing water monitoring requirements;
  • Water and wastewater management;
  • Chemicals including risk assessment and public disclosure;
  • Air emissions including flaring and venting;
  • Flora, fauna and weed management;
  • Soil management and erosion control;
  • Rehabilitation and environmental security; and
  • Incident management, investigation and notification.

You might also be interested in....


1 A separate definition for "environmental risk" was inserted and means the chance of something happening that will have an environmental impact, measured in terms of the environmental consequences and the likelihood of those consequences occurring.

2 prescribed records for the activity are the following documents:

  1. the original environment management plan, as approved by the Minister;
  2. each revision of the plan, as approved by the Minister;
  3. reports, including monitoring, audit and review reports, about environmental performance or the implementation strategy under the plan;
  4. records of emissions and discharges into the environment made in accordance with the plan;
  5. records of calibration and maintenance of monitoring devices used in accordance with the plan;
  6. records of, and copies of reports about, reportable incidents and recordable incidents;
  7. certificates associated with the disposal of waste;
  8. information or records relating to stakeholder engagement;
  9. all documents developed or received by the interest holder in relation to matters to which these Regulations apply;
  10. records of any other documents the interest holder is required by these Regulations to keep.

3 reportable incident means an incident, arising from a regulated activity, that has caused or has the potential to cause material environmental harm or serious environmental harm.

4 We understand that this is not an exhaustive list of the topics that will be covered in the Government's proposed guidelines.

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.