Australian Labor to Bolster Oil Agency If Re-elected

Australia’s governing Labor Party would expand the powers of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority should it win re-election on Aug. 21, Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said.

Australia may create a single offshore oil and gas regulator, Ferguson said at a conference in Perth today. The government is still studying a June report into last year’s oil spill from PTT Exploration & Production Pcl (PTTEP)’s Montara well and won’t release the findings before next weekend’s vote, he said.

The leak from PTTEP’s well in the Timor Sea and the BP Plc (BP/) disaster in the Gulf of Mexico have damaged confidence in the industry, Ferguson said in May. PTTEP, based in Bangkok, has said as much as 400 barrels of oil a day may have leaked from Montara between Aug. 21 and Nov. 3, spilling up to 30,000 barrels into the ocean.

“We are committed to learning the lessons of Montara and the Gulf of Mexico,” Ferguson said today, and Australia is sharing information on the Montara spill with U.S. authorities. If re-elected, Julia Gillard’s Labor government would host an international conference in Australia about offshore petroleum safety, he said.

PTTEP faces a review by the Australian government of its plans to address points raised by the Montara enquiry, he said. Australia will examine PTTEP’s approach to safety and “assess the progress being made to implement the plan and ensure all necessary measures have been taken,” Ferguson said.

‘Highest Standards’

The Thai company aims to “embed the highest standards of well safety in its Australian operations to comprehensively address the deficiencies and areas of concern identified in the company’s drilling operations,” Jose Martins, chief financial officer of its Australian unit, said in an e-mailed statement.

Australia’s NOPSA presented evidence to prosecutors in June as part of a separate investigation into the spill. Authorities are probing whether health and safety laws were violated.

Companies drilled 1,500 wells off Australia in the 25 years before the Montara spill without any blowouts, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association has said.

PTTEP said today its safety systems worked at Montara, that all 69 workers at the well were able to leave safely and that an independent scientific study released by Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority showed that no oil reached the state’s coast.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jason Scott in Perth at jscott14@bloomberg.net; James Paton in Sydney jpaton4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Amit Prakash at aprakash1@bloomberg.net.

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