Kangaroo Island Mayor Peter Clements will spearhead community opposition to Norwegian oil giant Statoil’s plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight when he attends the company’s annual general meeting in Norway today, Tuesday, May 15.
Back in Australia, community groups including local government, tourism and fishing industry representatives, traditional owners and conservationists protested outside the annual conference the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA).
The oil and gas lobby group just happened to open its annual conference Adelaide the same day, Tuesday morning.
Mr Clements sourced his own funding for the flights to Norway with the assistance of the Wilderness Society.
“Kangaroo Island Council is now one of seven South Australian local governments opposing the Norwegian-owned Statoil’s plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight,” Mr Clements said.
“It is, as far as I am aware, unheard of in Australia for seven elected local governments to pass formal motions opposing a development such as this. It should not go unheeded. This is the wrong place for any responsible oil company to operate.
“Kangaroo Island would bear the full brunt of an oil spill from deep-sea oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight and has everything to lose.
“Kangaroo Island is the jewel of South Australia’s tourism industry and its produce trades on the island’s clean green reputation.
“We have nothing against Statoil as a company which is doing incredible work in the renewables sector but we don't want its oil rigs in our southern waters.
“The local governments join a growing opposition that includes businesses, First Nations people, tourism and fishing operators, surfers as well as conservationists.”
Mr Clements will also request leave to read a letter at the AGM from Bight indigenous leader Sue Coleman-Haseldine, who visited Norway late last year as part of the group that won the Nobel Peace Prize, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
“We write on behalf of people around the world that are fighting to protect their Country, livelihoods, and water from dangerous oil drilling and climate change,” Ms Coleman-Haseldine writes in the letter signed by locals from the Bight area.
“Consent to drill the Bight has been neither sought, nor given. Together, we ask that Statoil abandon their plans to pursue risky deepwater oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, and around the globe.
“We call on Statoil to instead invest in our country in clean and renewable energy. Statoil must respect the Indigenous custodians of the land and sea from who you wish to extract oil and gas.”
Ms Coleman-Haseldine, a proud Kokatha-Mula elder from Ceduna, joined the protest outside the APPEA conference on Tuesday, as will Keith Parkes, the mayor of Alexandrina Council, which just last week passed a motion opposing oil drilling in the Bight.
“Alexandrina Council highly values our pristine river and coastal environment and the criticality of industries like tourism,” Mr Parkes said.
“We are concerned about the risks posed by drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight and the impact on our community should the worst happen and a spill occurs.”
Kangaroo Island tour guide Linda Irwin, a cousin of famed conservationist Steve, will also attend APPEA.
“The Kangaroo Island tourism industry relies on the environment remaining pristine,” Ms Irwin said.
“What I love about Kangaroo Island is its community, mateship, family, friends and its ability to survive. Kangaroo Island community is the fishermen, small business owners, tourism operators, ecotourism operators and the average Joe who just wants to have a go.
“What would put all of this and livelihoods at risk is an oil spill.”
The following weekend communities across southern Australia from Perth across to Newcastle in NSW will hold rallies as part of the international Hands Across the Sand movement that grew from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 when 800 million litres of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.
Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen said the Great Australian Bight waters were deeper, more treacherous and more remote than the Gulf of Mexico.
“Modelling showed that a spill from an ultra-deepwater well blowout in the Great Australian Bight could impact anywhere along all of southern Australia’s coast, from Western Australia right across to Victoria through Bass Strait to NSW and around Tasmania.
“Former Statoil Bight partner BP’s modelling showed a spill could hit Adelaide in 20 days and Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island in 15 days.
“A spill would be devastating for South Australia’s $442 million fishing industry and its tourism in coastal regions, worth more than $1 billion. The two industries employ more than 10,000 full-time positions.
“There is no established offshore oil and gas industry in South Australia to deal with a disaster.”
More than 6800 boats were involved in the Gulf cleanup but the South Australian Oyster Growers Association says that SA and neighbouring states do not have that many vessels and probably only 20 could operate safely in the waters where BP-Statoil planned to drill.
“The Great Australian Bight’s pristine waters are a haven for 36 species of whales and dolphins, including the world’s most important nursery for the endangered southern right whale as well as many humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales. It’s also Australia’s most important sea lion nursery.
The Bight also supports seals, orcas, giant cuttlefish, great white sharks, some of Australia’s most important fisheries, and migratory seabirds Australia has international obligations to protect.
“Oil exploration in this high-cost, high-risk, frontier province is incompatible with effective climate action and seems at odds with Statoil’s increasingly responsible approach to climate change.”