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NOPSEMA stops Santos’ risky drilling off WA coast


The equipment has now been fixed, bringing NOPSEMA’s ban on drilling to an end.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Jeff Waters said at a time of record profits offshore gas producers could not even maintain their equipment to minimum safety standards.

“Workers’ lives were put at risk,” he said.

In the worst case a failure of well control equipment such as the blowout preventer while the Spartan-2 well was being drilled could cause more than 50,000 cubic metres of oil and gas to escape into the ocean, according to santos’ oil pollution emergency plan.

In that scenario there was a 10 per cent chance that oil reached the coast at Ningaloo, a marine park famous for its coral reefs.

A pattern of danger


The faulty safety equipment on the Tom Prosser drilling rig follows two other serious incidents in Santos operations near Varanus Island.

In July 2021 a ship with a crane was lifting an old platform off its supporting structure when the platform began swinging wildly forcing two workers on the structure to scramble for their lives.

Three dead dolphins were found by 25,000 litres of oil spilled while a tanker was being loaded in March 2022.

A Santos spokeswoman said the safety of its staff was its utmost priority.

“ All of our operations have rigorous safety measures in place, and we are committed to preventing harm and pursuing industry-leading safety management,” she said.

Both the earlier incidents, the platform lift and the oil spill, occurred closer to shore than the Spartan-2 well, in state waters regulated by the WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.

While NOPSEMA is an independent regulator focused on safety and the environment, DMIRS is a government department charged with making WA an attractive destination for investors as well as regulating those projects they invest in.

DMIRS does not make its regulatory actions known to the same degree as NOPSEMA and the platform incident and oil spill only became public knowledge through the media.

Waters said the lack of disclosure and action by state regulators indicated it was “open slather” for the oil and gas industry in WA.

“The state government needs to get out of the pockets of this industry and do their jobs representing the public and looking after the environment,” he said.

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