Fighting against offshore drilling, seismic testing off Kangaroo Island

The Kangaroo Island mayor and Australian Greens are ramping up their campaign against offshore drilling in the deep ocean of the Great Australian Bight.

Exploration company PGS is proposing to conduct seismic testing less than 100km west of Kangaroo Island, while fellow Norweigen company Statoil is moving ahead with plans for test drilling in the Bight.

KI mayor Peter Clements joined Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young on Glenelg beach earlier this month for the launch of the “Bight 2020” campaign to to see the Great Australian Bight protected on the United Nations’ World Heritage list.

Norweigen oil exploration company on March 9 submitted its latest plans to conduct seismic testing of the seafloor 90km west of Kangaroo Island.

Mr Clements said not only would seismic testing damage the environment, killing off the zooplankton that is the base of the food chain, but it could ultimately lead to floating oil platforms even closer to Kangaroo Island.

“I have said to the owners of the world-class Southern Ocean Lodge, ‘How would you like your guests to see a permanent sunset every night?’ because if drilling goes ahead that close to the island, the burning off of gas would light up the night skies,” Cr Clements said.

Chevron and BP meanwhile abandoned plans to drill in the Bight, but BP still owns two offshore leases and passed on two exploration permits to Norwegian company Statoil last year. 

Statoil intends to drill exploratory wells in permit areas 39 and 40 in the Bight by October 2019, subject to approval from the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA). 

The company is developing an environmental plan to submit to the management authority, which would be subject to consultation.

Mr Clements meanwhile is urging all South Australian councils to join the fight for oil free seas in the Great Australian Bight.

The councils that so far have joined are Kangaroo Island, Holdfast Bay, Victor Harbor, Yankalilla, Yorke Peninsula and Elliston.

He said he was disappointed that Port Lincoln and Ceduna councils had expressed support of drilling in the Great Australian Bight, which he said was short-sighted and ignored the environmental risks for economic benefits that would be short term or non existent at all.

“These multi-national companies would be bringing in expert workers from far afield and much of the operations can be managed remotely with a push of a button,” he said.

Mr Clements said there was no way that Statoil could guarantee against disaster as drilling in 2km deep water was unprecedented when combined with the catastrophic sea conditions experienced in the Bight.

Any containment dome to prevent a spill from spreading would take more than six weeks to arrive from Singapore and the number of ships needed to contain any spill were simply not available, he said.

The depth of the water would mean any blow-out protection devices would have to work at pressures that are the equivalent of devices that use water to cut steel, he said.

And the depth would mean drilling platforms would not be anchored but free floating on the surface kept in place by GPS-directed propellers.

SEISMIC TESTING: Norwegian company PGS has applied to do seismic testing in a survey area 90km west of Kangaroo Island. PGS is checking if there’s exploitable reserves there, and if they find it, they can sell the license to the highest bidder. Image from NOPSEMA website

SEISMIC TESTING: Norwegian company PGS has applied to do seismic testing in a survey area 90km west of Kangaroo Island. PGS is checking if there’s exploitable reserves there, and if they find it, they can sell the license to the highest bidder. Image from NOPSEMA website

The state of play

Norweigen exploration company PGS on March 9, 2018 submitted its revised environmental plan to NOPSEMA relating to a request to undertake seismic testing in waters 51km from Cape Carnot, Eyre Peninsula, 90km west of Kangaroo Island and 80km south-southwest of Port Lincoln.

The Australian Greens say the survey area stretches 30,100 square kilometres, and would run for 24/7, for three months.

“This is one of the closest seismic testing areas to land in the Great Australian Bight,” a spokesperson for the Greens said.

“It is in the direct migratory path of southern bluefin tuna and various whale species including southern right whales and sperm whales. This is also a vital feeding ground for blue whales.”

PGS and Statoil are both Norwegian companies and the senior project adviser at Statoil in Australia, previously worked for PGS for more than a decade, according to the Greens.

“PGS has had eight extensions from NOPSEMA to provide their environmental plan detailing the impact of seismic testing in the Great Australian Bight.”

“In November 2014, PGS acting for Chevron began seismic testing in the Great Australian Bight.  In early December, a pod of sperm whales beached themselves at Ardrossan; they all died,” the Greens spokesperson said. 

The Norwood Resource website, which bills itself as providing “a more balanced public perception of the oil  and gas,  exploration and production, and mining industries”, meanwhile has contested claims that whales are negatively impacted by seismic testing. 

The website has also attacked the Greens and mayor’s latest campaign and media coverage of opposition to drilling in the Bight. 

But Mr Clements stands by his opposition to the current proposals saying he was not against the oil and gas industry, but rather he had concerns the companies’ inability to prevent disaster.

“The safety bar in my view has not been lifted high enough for us to agree that there should be an oil and gas industry in the Bight,” he said. 

“BP has said an oil spill would improve the economy of the coastline and while this could be right in the short term as was witnessed in the Gulf of Mexico, it is a stupid comment.

“Nothing about this proposal gives anyone any confidence that should there be a major spill that anything could be done.

“The likelihood is that it would be absolute disaster and we would be kissing goodbye to billions of dollars, as the agriculture, fishing and tourism economies of South Australia, Victoria and even New South Wales would be left in ruin.”

BP’s application, which Statoil took over, said that a potential oil spill would travel 750km along the coast, well and truly hitting not only Kangaroo Island but even further, The Greens said.

No social license

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said there was no social license for oil and gas drilling in the Great Australian Bight and the SA Liberal Government needs to be upfront with voters.

“Will they allow this seismic testing, which risks jobs in fishing and tourism industries and puts marine life at enormous risk, or will they sit by and let it happen?” Ms Hanson-Young said.

“Seismic testing is the first step to ruining one of the most unique marine environments in the world, right here on our doorstep.

“As South Australians it’s up to us to protect this precious place. Kangaroo Island is the jewel in our crown and anything that puts it at risk must be stopped.

“The Kangaroo Island community is fed up with their serious concerns not being listened to. The Greens stand with South Australia’s coastal communities in opposing multinational fossil fuels companies plans for seismic testing and drilling.”

Greens call for protection

The Australian Greens and KI mayor on April 18 launched “Bight 2020” on Glenelg beach, a campaign to see the Great Australian Bight protected on the United Nations’ World Heritage list.

“The Great Australian Bight is under increasing threat from multinational fossil fuels companies wanting to drill for oil and gas, risking tourism and fishing industries, coastal communities and the precious marine life that call it home,” Greens Senator for South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young said.

“World Heritage listing is a way to recognise, celebrate and protect all that’s great about the Bight. That’s good for tourism, good for jobs, good for the Bight and good for the state.

“There is no social license for oil and gas drilling in the Great Australian Bight and the Labor and Liberal parties need to support its long-term protection.

World Heritage listing is a thorough process that requires the Government to support an application to United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Applications can be made in February each year, and the Greens believe, with political will, this can be achieved by February 2020.

“85 per cent of the wildlife found in the Great Australian Bight is found nowhere else on earth. It’s a feeding ground for blue whales, a nursery for southern right whales, and a playground for the Australian sea lion,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

“What we celebrate and what we protect says a lot about what we value. The Great Australian Bight is a unique, world-recognised jewel in our national crown. If we value it, we have to protect it.

“Big oil companies like BP see no value in the Bight beyond what they can drill and what they can spill. They think oil spills in the Bight would be “a welcome boost to the local economy”.

“And with Statoil dusting off BP’s plans to exploit the Bight, and more applications being considered for seismic testing off Kangaroo Island, we have no time to lose.

“Just last year, scientists discovered 275 species and a further 887 species already known to science were found in the Bight for the first time.

“The underwater environment is so diverse that scientists are yet fully to understand the richness of this complex ecosystem. We can’t rely on multinational oil companies to protect the Bight – we’ve got to choose between the Bight and Big Oil’s bottom line.

“The Greens will always stand with South Australia’s coastal communities in opposing multinational fossil fuel companies plans for drilling in the Bight, and call on the Labor and Liberal parties to join the Bight 2020 Campaign.

“Our message to the Labor and Liberal Parties at both the state and federal level is simple: the days of fence-sitting are over. The Bight is counting on us. If you love it, list it,” she said.

The campaign for World Heritage listing will run right up to the next Federal election, calling on all parties and South Australian MPs to pledge to protect the Bight and South Australia’s tourism industry.”

DRILLING AREA: Norweigen oil company Statoil now owns exploration permits 39 and 40 seen here on a map of the Great Australian Bight.

DRILLING AREA: Norweigen oil company Statoil now owns exploration permits 39 and 40 seen here on a map of the Great Australian Bight.

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