Exxon Faces Heat over Bass Strait Spill

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 @ 04:05 PM gHale

Failure to properly respond to an oil spill near an ExxonMobil rig in the Bass Strait increased the risk of contamination and posed a “significant threat to the environment,” an investigation found.

The spill was reported to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema) February 1 after an oily sheen was spotted in the water near the West Tuna oil platform, about 45km off the coast of Lakes Entrance in Gippsland.

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The platform is operated by Esso Australia Resources Pty Ltd, an affiliate of ExxonMobil, as part of the Kipper Tuna Turrum gas project.

A Nopsema investigator who examined Esso’s response to the spill said it had failed to identify the source of the leaks because its staff failed to follow procedures in collecting, testing and labelling oil samples, in part because they did not have the required equipment, causing a “significant threat to the environment.”

The findings were in an environmental improvement notice issued by the regulator in April but not made public until Tuesday.

It found Esso’s failure to follow its own procedures following detection of the oil sheen lead to its failure to obtain a representative sample of oil, which directly impacted its ability to identify the source of the spill.

That in turn created unnecessary delays in responding to the spill and “may result in additional environmental impact and risk that could otherwise be avoided,” the notice said.

Esso has been ordered to review its oil spill response training within 60 days or risk “additional enforcement action.”

A spokesman from Esso confirmed they had not been able to identify the source of the oil but disagreed with the assumption that it had come from their oil rig, saying: “Esso is of the view there is no credible scenario which confirms our operations to be the source of the sheen.”

The spokesman Esso already had approved environmental plans and oil sampling programs in place.

“In this particular circumstance, there was a vessel available which could take a sample of the observed sheen,” he said. “However, this vessel did not have sampling equipment on board which met our environmental plan protocols.

“Esso is taking steps to ensure approved sampling equipment is readily available to respond in similar circumstances.”

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