29 Sep 2023

Transcript: Samantha McCulloch talks to Gary Adshead on 6PR Mornings about the need for offshore regulation reform

Gary Adshead: All right. So we’re happy to take some calls in a minute about this issue 133882. Because as I said, it does throw up in the air billions of dollars worth of investment in relation to these kinds of offshore projects in and around the fact that this one relies on the seismic testing that Woodside do as part of the Scarborough gas field development. It has since been shut and it’s probably sent seismic soundwaves through the industry. Samantha McCulloch is the CEO of the Australian Energy Producers. Samantha just what was your reaction to it? 

Samantha McCulloch: Ah, Hi, Gary. Thanks for having me on. Look, I think this is just further evidence of an offshore regulatory system that, frankly, is broken. Now what we’re seeing at the moment is just a lack of clarity, lack of certainty around the regulation, meaning that even the regulator is unable to move forward and approve projects. Even an approval by the regulator is frankly not worth the paper it’s written on. This is costing the industry millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars in terms of the delays. But importantly, it’s also threatening, you know, reliable and affordable gas supply and that includes to the WA domestic market, but also our international customers. 

Gary Adshead: Because that’s the thing. I mean, the Federal Court found that there was no statutory power of NOPSEMA to make this decision to approve the seismic testing. I mean, is that something that would be a revelation to the industry that this organisation NOPSEMA doesn’t have that statutory power? I thought that’s exactly what it did have. 

Samantha McCulloch: Yeah. Well, Gary, just again, it goes to the lack of clarity around the requirements and the rules of the game for offshore development. This is something that’s been of immense concern to the industry for some time. We have a significant logjam. Now, in terms of offshore approvals, and you know, this is affecting gas production and plans for new gas supply, but it’s also broader than that – it’s affecting plans to decommission, it’s affecting plans for carbon capture and storage projects that are going to be really important in terms of reducing emissions. And down the track, you know, this is the same regulatory framework that offshore wind is going to need to operate in. So it’s really urgent that we start to get the clarity around the requirements and enable these projects to move forward. 

Gary Adshead: Is it therefore urgent and important that the decision of the Federal Court as far as NOPSEMA and possibly Woodside as well, that concern that this gets… there is an appeal? 

Samantha McCulloch: I think ultimately we’re going to need to address the inherent uncertainty and the ambiguity in the regulations. And NOPSEMA have pointed to this in their response. We just need clarity around what those requirements are we’re talking about, you know, hundreds of millions, billion-dollar investments, and you cannot make those investments when your approval can be overturned. 

Gary Adshead: Okay, so, so from from your point of view, until this is resolved, what will it say to the industry? What’s it saying to producers out there, and explorers out there that might be thinking about future gasfields right now? Is it is it saying stop until this is sorted out? 

Samantha McCulloch: Well, we already have significant logjam in terms of projects seeking to move forward and we are competing internationally for investments. So you know, this is really damaging Australia’s reputation as being a reliable, stable investment destination. And I think we also need to recognise that we need this investment in gas; gas is playing such an important role in terms of our energy transition. We’re relying on it more and more, not just for in power generation where it’s backing up renewables but also for supporting our manufacturing sector, supporting in the future processing [of] critical minerals. There’s a really important role for gas to play. We need to be investing in supply. That is actually the key also to ensuring that we’ve got affordable you know, reliable supply for the domestic market and bringing down some of the costs of gas at the moment. It’s all contributing to a very high-cost, unreliable investment environment in Australia. 

Gary Adshead: Well, I appreciate you bringing us your side of the argument. Thanks for that, Samantha. 

Samantha McCulloch: Thanks very much, Gary.