Key Points:

The Northern Territory Government has passed a Bill to amend the Petroleum Act to allow the Minister for Mines and Energy to exercise discretion and make decisions about matters relating to the protection of the environment.

On 26 May 2016, the NT Legislative Assembly passed the Petroleum Amendment Bill 2016 which will allow for regulations to be made under the Act for the protection of the environment that prescribe:

  • the functions and powers of the Minister; and
  • the way in which the Minister may perform those functions and exercise those powers, including the exercise of his discretion.

Regulations for the environment

Regulations can be made under the Petroleum Act in relation to the protection of the environment and people who have lawful access to the exploration permit or licence area (amongst other things). Accordingly, the NT Government released its draft Petroleum (Environment) Regulations for consultation on 5 March 2016, with the submission period closing on 4 April 2016.

We previously examined the detail in the draft Regulations and one of its main functions will be to allow the Minister to exercise discretion and make decisions about environmental management plans (EMPs) for onshore petroleum activities, including the discretion to consider the principles of ecologically sustainable development and matters such as the recommendations from the NT Environment Protection Authority. It is understood that in developing the draft Regulations it became clear to the NT Government that the current provision under the Act was not broad enough to allow the draft Regulations to prescribe this power and discretion. Therefore, amendment was necessary in order to allow the draft Regulations to be made.

Functions and powers of the Minister

Upon commencement, the Bill will insert into the Petroleum Act that regulations under the Act prescribing matters for the protection of the environment, may provide for:

  • functions to be performed, and powers to be exercised, by the Minister; and
  • the way in which the Minister may perform a function or exercise a power, including the way in which the Minister may exercise a discretion.

What next?

The Bill is currently awaiting assent and it is understood that passage of this Bill now means that the proposed draft Regulations can be made in June 2016.