Kangaroo Island Council has officially voiced its opposition to planned drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight.
The united front comes as BP forges ahead with testing for planned sites in South Australian waters – including an area 140 kilometres west of Kangaroo Island.
“While the prospective oil grounds in the Bight are a long way from Kangaroo Island there is considerable concern that during an oil production phase and possibly an exploration phase that an oil spill could devastate the South Australian coastline and particularly Kangaroo Island which stands in the middle of prevailing currents and winds,” Kangaroo Island mayor Peter Clements said.
“The ‘roaring forties’ and the ‘treacherous fifties’ winds off the coast of southern Australia are aptly named.”
Council cited the risk of a large oil spill as its primary concern behind the opposition, with any such event having possibly catastrophic consequences on an island that depends on a green image.
Mr Clements said the remote location of the wells and the depth at which they would drill would make any mistake harder to fix in a timely manner.
The intention to drill in Bight Waters at potentially far greater depths and with a non-fixed drilling platform combined with the risk of operating in a treacherous part of the southern ocean is a risk that shouldn't be taken.Kangaroo Island mayor Peter Clements
“The largest oil spill in history in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 was extremely difficult to contain within the depth of water the platform was situated. The intention to drill in Bight Waters at potentially far greater depths and with a non-fixed drilling platform combined with the risk of operating in a treacherous part of the southern ocean is a risk that shouldn't be taken,” Mr Clements said.
“The oil spill modelling carried out by independent consultants for the oil industry paints an honest picture but this is based on the least likely scenarios of an oil spill in the Bight. The degrees to which oil can spill from a broken valve or line depend on the head pressure and quantity of oil and gas charging the line multiplied by the amount of days it is not contained - something that BP did not count on with the latest disaster.
“The device used to contain a blow-out at those depths did not function in the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the Well Cap also failed.
“Should these blow-out preventers fail again the difficulty of containment will be in transporting a 500 ton Well Cap to the Bight Region.
“Currently this would require dismantling the Well Cap and placing on 34 semitrailers leaving Houston Texas to feed 7 Antanov and Boeing 747 cargo planes for re transport from say, Adelaide and assembly at say, Ceduna.”
Mr Clements also queried the economic benefit from drilling – particularly for those on Kangaroo Island.
“The argument for employment used by the industry and federal government and supported by their state members is false and misleading,” he said.
“The number of positions created by establishing an oil drilling platform with shore bases is minimal and the majority of employment positions requiring the special expertise is likely sourced from out of the state and often overseas.
“There are few unskilled jobs on oil/gas platforms and South Australia has had very little to do with offshore drilling by comparison. Governments of any persuasion love natural resources and especially oil and gas because it is the low-hanging fruit of the economy that they can exploit without having to put the hard yards into building industry.”
Member for Finniss Michael Pengilly argued for the safety of the well which would have to work through some of the world’s most stringent safety precautions through the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority.
He also argued while the potential employment may not directly apply to Kangaroo Islanders, it would be beneficial for the state as a whole.
“The employment will be principally at Ceduna, Port Lincoln and Port Adelaide. It's an economic benefit to the state,” he said.
“NOPSEMA will not give approval without strict conditions, if indeed it is approved.”
Council and local environmentalists are also concerned about planned seismic blasting, worried about the effect it could have on marine wildlife.
The employment will be principally at Ceduna, Port Lincoln and Port Adelaide. It's an economic benefit to the state.Member for Finniss Michael Pengilly
“Kangaroo Island Council's official stance on drilling in the Bight comes from an economic and social perspective and this position was triggered by the proposed Bight Petroleum seismic blasting in territory close to Kangaroo Island back in 2011,” Mr Clements said.
“Knowledge of the effects of seismic blasting in pristine waters has been the subject of very little study globally but the research that has been done provides much insight into the potential destructiveness of the marine ecology and particularly the migratory patterns of whales and many other cetaceans.
“With the help of experts in the field who donated their time and expertise, Council was able to force two separate ‘controlled actions’ on Bight Petroleum which has put off their attempts, so far, to undertake their seismic survey.”
Mr Clements said he also saw the potential for Kangaroo Island to become a bastion for renewable and clean energy – an image which he fears oil would tarnish.
There would not be a month go by where either myself or our CEO is challenged by offers from private corporations to align themselves with Kangaroo Island's iconic green and pristine status and create a totally self-sustaining island as a model for the nation.Kangaroo Island mayor Peter Clements
“The majority of climate scientists agree that 75 percent of the world's reserves of carbon producing fuel must be left in the ground if we are to survive this century,” he said.
“Kangaroo Island has the highest uptake of photovoltaics per capita in South Australia, we are among the first to take up new technology and innovation and that is a great start to a renewable energy future.
“I can see Islanders driving more electric or hydrogen powered vehicles in the near future and farmers using synthetic diesel made from residues of farm products supplemented by forestry thinnings.
“The opportunity to create biomass generated energy, synthetic fuels and biochar for agriculture is already available but we are hooked on carbon, it is like a drug and we need to recognise and change that.
“Investors throughout the world are divesting of carbon shares and the mighty superannuation funds are continually balancing their share portfolios with clean energy options, the change is happening and we need to get on board.
“There would not be a month go by where either myself or our CEO is challenged by offers from private corporations to align themselves with Kangaroo Island's iconic green and pristine status and create a totally self-sustaining island as a model for the nation.”
BP was approached for comment but did not reply.