The outgoing head of Australia’s offshore oil and gas regulator has been accused of being “too close” to industry.

Stuart Smith, chief executive of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), recently attended an industry conference dinner in Brisbane at which he helped hand out awards to fossil fuel companies, including Santos, Inpex and Beach Energy. 

The dinner was held as part of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) conference.

APPEA chair Ian Davies, who is also chief executive of oil and gas company Senex Energy, praised Mr Smith and thanked him for his work as the head of the regulator.

Mark Ogge, principal advisor at The Australia Institute, also attended the event. 

He says he was “shocked” that the regulator “felt comfortable” making the appearance. “Regulators being too close to the industry and their lobbyists is a classic indicator of industry capture,” Mr Ogge said.

“The regulator is meant to be making tough decisions that may be against the commercial interests of oil and gas companies in order to protect the community and the environment.

“They’re meant to be the cop on the beat.”

NOPSEMA has since issued a statement saying it “has a function to promote and advise on health and safety, as well as integrity and environmental management matters” including at industry functions.

“NOPSEMA’s CEO Stuart Smith announced publicly in March that he would not be seeking to have his contract renewed when it expires in September this year,” the statement said.

“In light of this, he was contacted by APPEA and asked to attend the conference dinner so that his work over the last eight years could be acknowledged.

“He was also asked to hand out some awards while he was on stage. He had no role in the selection of the award winners.”

Western Australian deputy premier Roger Cook, the Queensland Liberal National party MPs Pat Weir and Trevor Watts, and the Labor MP James Madden were all in attendance at the awards night. 

Inpex won an “environmental project excellence” award for its oil spill response model, Beach Energy won an award for a 3D seismic survey of marine life in the Bass Strait, and Santos received a safety project excellence award for its road safety program.