EPA response to Environment Court decision: BW Offshore Singapore Pte Ltd (BWO) appeal against abatement notices

12 November 2020

On 21 October 2020 the Environment Court released its decision on BWO’s appeal against abatement notices issued by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in March 2020.

The decision was the first time that abatement notices issued under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (EEZ Act) had been considered by the courts.

The Environment Court cancelled the abatement notices following consideration of the circumstances as they were at the time of the hearing in August 2020.

This decision of the Environment Court, together with the interim stay decision of the High Court in April 2020, reinforced that the EPA, as regulator, took appropriate action based on the circumstances at the time. In the 7 April 2020 High Court Judgment Justice Cooke said, “The abatement notice seems to me to be the appropriate mechanism by which EPA preserves the situation until a new and complete assessment of the current circumstances can occur.”

The EPA's General Manager of Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement, Gayle Holmes, says, “In March 2020, the EPA acted quickly to prevent disconnection by BWO of its floating production storage and offtake facility (FPSO). This was at a time when there was considerable uncertainty around the state, and future, of the Tui oil field. We were faced with a previous oil spill, questions around the integrity of the infrastructure, an insolvent operator, and uncertainty around decommissioning.

“The Environment Court decided that, as at August 2020 - more than five months after the abatement notices were issued - that they no longer needed to continue, noting that there had been significant changes in the Tui field since the time that the abatement notices were issued. Weight was given to the fact that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had since assumed responsibility for the subsea assets, marine consents, and decommissioning, following the insolvency of the former operator Tamarind Taranaki Limited.”

The EPA will not be appealing the decision and welcomes the clarity that it provides – in particular around the need to make decisions based on the circumstances and best information at the time. 

Government agencies are working to ensure the closure of oil wells in the Tui field is effectively managed and safe. The EPA’s role is to ensure that regulated parties comply with their obligations under the EEZ Act, which are designed to manage the environmental impacts of the activity.

Background:

BWO is an operator of the FPSO Umuroa. The FPSO has been operating in the Tui Field within a petroleum mining permit, approximately 50 kilometres off the coast of Taranaki. BWO wishes to disconnect the FPSO from the oil wells and subsea infrastructure, and remove it from the Tui Field.