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Offshore oil and gas exploration

Our role in working with the offshore industry.

We are an important stakeholder for all offshore exploration and exploitation activities conducted between the Australian mainland and the limit of Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Our role

We must be consulted by all offshore exploration and production titleholders. Our interests include:

  • Survey and certification of vessels.
  • Safety of navigation.
  • Environmental safety and incident preparedness.

Consultation with us

Applicants should liaise closely with AMSA’s Systems Safety section before submitting an Environment Plan (EP) to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

We will provide nautical advice about collision avoidance measures for the intended activity. 

This includes EPs for any:

  • Non-drilling exploration activity, such as hydrographic surveys, 2D, 3D and 4D seismic surveys and/or bottom sampling.
  • Exploratory drilling, or development/extraction operations.
  • Plug and abandonment activities. 

Do this by emailing AMSAConnect@amsa.gov.au. Place ‘Attention Nautical Advice’ in the subject line of your emails.

Collision avoidance 

Collision avoidance measures may include: 

  • Additional warnings and/or lights to attract attention.
  • Installation of Automatic Identification System (AIS) units. 
  • Offshore guard vessel/s that can monitor traffic, and take early action to alert a vessel approaching the area of operations. 

We may also recommend changes to survey run lines and modifications to proposed operational areas within a permit block or title.

If the exploration vessel (such as a seismic survey vessel) is towing and is restricted in her ability to manoeuvre, it must display appropriate lights and shapes in compliance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (COLREGS). 

All vessels must maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions, in accordance with the COLREGS.

Exploratory drilling

Applicants should avoid any vertical stationary/dynamic positioned drilling activities within or near the terminations of, charted shipping fairways or other ships’ routeing systems (for example, a Traffic Separation Scheme). This also applies to drilling conducted by Mobile Offshore Drilling Units (MODUs). 

Exploration, vertical drilling and development activities are not permitted within any charted International Maritime Organization-adopted Traffic Separation Scheme.

Safety of navigation

Shipping traffic data

Heavy shipping traffic may be encountered in some offshore petroleum title areas. 

Applicants should evaluate and implement adequate anti-collision measures in their area of interest.

We can provide historical shipping traffic data to assist duty holders to assess risk. 

You can find free historic vessel traffic data for the following three sub-areas on our website: 

  • Bass Strait
  • Great Australian Bight
  • North West Western Australia

Requests for data 

We can also provide: 

  • Digital data.
  • Map products. 
  • Historical vessel traffic data.
  • Guidance to help reduce the risk of collision.

Requests should be made through Spatial@AMSA.

A fee will be charged for raw data or analysis. 

All requests must include:

  • A description of the area concerned, including bounding latitudes and longitudes.
  • The name of the drilling or survey activity.
  • Specific permit block numbers (e.g. WA-28-L).
  • The name of any vessels involved in the activity (including drilling vessels, survey vessels, pipe laying vessels and other support vessels).
  • Timeframe for the proposed activities (start and end dates or start date and duration of the activity).

At least 4 weeks’ notice is needed for all requests for data and requests must meet our data disclosure policy.

Promulgation of maritime safety information 

Maritime safety information (MSI) includes:

  • Navigational warnings.
  • Meteorological warnings.
  • Urgent safety related messages important to ships at sea. 

Many warnings are of a temporary nature, but others may remain in force for several weeks and may be superseded by notices to mariners (NTM).

Activities that may impact safety of navigation should have appropriate MSI promulgated before operations commence. 

Examples of these types of activities include:

  • Any form of drilling.
  • Vessels conducting marine seismic surveys.
  • Installation of offshore installations.
  • Underwater surveys of offshore infrastructure.
  • Pipe laying, cable laying or maintenance activities including work associated with telecommunication cables.
  • Other activities that could potentially impact upon the safety of navigation.

To do this, you can: 

Marking and avoidance of man-made structures offshore 

Offshore man-made structures must be adequately marked. This is vital for vessel safety and the safety of structures and their personnel. 

Authorities may consider establishing exclusion or safety zones to be avoided. This will prohibit or restrict vessels from entering the proximity of off-shore structures. Details of such zones can be found on the relevant nautical charts. Authorities can also use MSI to circulate advice to shipping on installed aids to navigation. This information can also be published as notice to mariners

Preventing collisions—vessel or facility? 

The Navigation Act 2012 does not apply where a vessel is classified as a 'facility'. Generally speaking, a vessel will be a 'facility' when it is being used, or being prepared to be used, in petroleum activities. More information can be found at NOPSEMA.

Offshore petroleum geological regions

There are three main geological regions around Australia where offshore exploration occurs.  Each region includes a number of areas that are sensitive due to their environmental significance or potential impacts to safety of navigation. Prospective oil and gas proponents should be aware of these sensitive areas when undertaking offshore activities.

These sensitive areas may have additional limitations and restrictions which should be considered when planning exploration and exploitation operations.

Offshore North-West Australia

This region includes the following areas:

  • Arafura Basin
  • Bonaparte Basin
  • Browse Basin
  • Canning Basin
  • Carnarvon Basin
  • Money Shoal Basin
  • Roebuck Basin

Sensitive areas include:

  • Ningaloo ‘area to be avoided’ (ATBA)
  • Charted shipping fairways off the north-west coast of Australia, used by traffic to arrive and depart the Port of Dampier, Port Walcott and Port Hedland.
  • Commercial shipping traffic that transits parallel to west coast.
  • Offshore petroleum infrastructure such as: Rankin platform, Wheatstone platform, Pluto platform, Shell’s Prelude FLNG etc.
  • Monetbello-Tryal rocks recommended track.
  • Rowley Shoals.
  • Scott Reef.
  • Browse Island.
  • Ashmore Reef

Offshore Southern Australia

This region includes the following areas:

  • Bight Basin
  • Gippsland Basin
  • Kerguelen Plateau
  • Otway Basin
  • Sorell Basin

Sensitive areas include:

  • Cape Leeuwin Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS)
  • Heavy commercial shipping traffic traverse the Great Australian Bight
  • Gippsland and Wilsons Promontory TSS
  • Gippsland ATBA
  • Cape Otway sees the convergence of 5 traffic routes:
    • West, east traffic to South Australian ports
    • West, east traffic to Victorian ports
    • West, east traffic to Tasmanian ports
    • West, east traffic to New Zealand
    • North, south traffic from Victoria to Tasmania and New Zealand

Offshore South-West Australia

This region includes the following areas:

  • Mentelle Basin
  • Naturalist Plateau
  • Perth Basin
  • Wallaby Plateau

Sensitive areas include:

  • Cape Leeuwin Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS)
  • Houtman Abrolhos Islands
  • Shark Bay
  • Heavy commercial shipping traffic hug the west coast travelling north and south from Indonesia

Environmental safety and incident preparedness

Australia's National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies (the National Plan) provides a national framework setting out how governments and industry will co-operate to respond to shipping casualties and marine pollution incidents.

Further guidance can be obtained from:

  • The Advisory note for the offshore petroleum industry with respect to oil spill contingency plans and environmental plans.
  • Marine environment protection (contact us).

Survey and certification

We administer the Navigation Act 2012. The act generally applies to regulated Australian vessels and foreign vessels. This includes vessels engaged in offshore exploration and exploitation activities when the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 does not apply.

Renewable energy and greenhouse gas storage 

We provide advice to the Australian Government on sites to be explored and potential impacts on the safety of navigation.

Advisory note for the offshore petroleum industry on EPs and oil pollution emergency plans 

NOPSEMA is the assessor for offshore environmental management of petroleum activities. Organisations engaged in offshore exploration or exploitation activities must have an EP. More information about EPs can be found in our advisory note.

Last updated: 9 October 2023