JANE Cutler used to joke about the acronym of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) when she was introducing it at industry conferences around Perth in 2011.

“No, it’s not a disease!”

Of course, it isn’t, but it was undergoing mutation ever since she started as chief executive of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority (NOPSA) in 2009, one month after the Montara blowout.

“No, it’s not a disease!”

Of course, it isn’t, but it was undergoing mutation ever since she started as chief executive of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority (NOPSA) in 2009, one month after the Montara blowout.

The incident saw the body’s role expanded, and its name changed, by 2011 – with the expanded body now regulating the integrity of wells as well as environmental management of petroleum activities in Commonwealth waters and some state and territory waters.

In her farewell letter, Ms Cutler said she believed NOPSEMA had retained a focus on the delivery of robust independent regulation of the industry, but continued in her call for improved collaboration as the key to future success.

“NOPSEMA’s regulatory emphasis will continue to be informed by the challenges facing the Australian offshore petroleum industry, including: maintenance of ageing infrastructure, employment of new technologies such as floating LNG production facilities, aligning workforce competency with the pace of activity and meeting community expectations for responsible and sustainable practices,” she said.

Facing these challenges will be new NOPSEMA chief executive Stuart Smith, who starts in the role this month under a three-year term.

It also comes as the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) takes on Stena Drilling in the Melbourne Magistrates Court over the death of two workers on the Stena Clyde rig two years ago.

This is where NOPSEMA treads a fine line, with its role as an independent regulator contrasting with its role as the group which refers matters to the CDPP for prosecution.

Deliberating whether or not to take action on these incidents takes time – but the delays are often cited by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and others, in their calls for a seat at the negotiating table, and criticisms of NOPSEMA as being too close to industry.

Of course, it is exactly that proximity to industry that Ms Cutler and others at NOPSEMA have been keen to encourage, seeing it as the best way to ensure adherence to changing regulations as well as openness in reporting incidents when they do occur.

It will be up to Mr Smith to retain this proximity while building on the changes to the regulator’s role which have taken place to the satisfaction of the industry and those that observe it – both within the industry and on social media.

With regret, what we can assuredly say about the near future is that these incidents, be they death, injury or unauthorised environmental damage, will occur again.

After the mutations of the past five years, it is time for NOPSEMA to go viral.