Port Lincoln becomes 12th council to oppose Bight oil drilling

NO OIL: Linda Irwin-Oak from Kangaroo Island, Sue Haseldine from Ceduna Susie Thistleton from Ceduna, Jamilla Martin from Port Willunga and Kyri Toumazos from Adelaide at a protest in Adleaide. Photo: Jo-Anna Robinson/Greenpeace
NO OIL: Linda Irwin-Oak from Kangaroo Island, Sue Haseldine from Ceduna Susie Thistleton from Ceduna, Jamilla Martin from Port Willunga and Kyri Toumazos from Adelaide at a protest in Adleaide. Photo: Jo-Anna Robinson/Greenpeace

Anti deep-sea oil drilling campaigners on Kangaroo Island have welcome news that the Port Lincoln City Council on Monday night, September 3 became the 12th council to oppose oil and gas exploration.

Mayor Peter Clements and Linda Irwin-Oak have travelled as far as Norway and Adelaide to protest plans for drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen said Norwegian oil giant Equinor should drop its plans to drill for oil after Port Lincoln became the 12th South Australian local government to vote its opposition to oil and gas exploration in Australia’s southern waters, representing 550,000 South Australians.

An executive of Equinor, formerly Statoil, had previously told Port Lincoln councillors that it would not push through resistance if it was not wanted, Mr Owen said.

“Equinor said it would not push through resistance so it’s time the Norwegian oil giant listened to the elected representatives of half a million South Australians and drop its Bight plans like BP and Chevron did,” he said.

“The Port Lincoln vote is a massive blow to Equinor as it’s one of the region’s biggest ports and its fishing industry is an economic powerhouse for Australia.

“We said the community opposition would only grow even after the departure of BP and Chevron, and the opposition is escalating rapidly, with 12 South Australian local governments representing more than half a million residents now opposed, and an interstate council, Moyne in Victoria, demanding to be consulted over any oil and gas plans in the Bight.

“Will Equinor defy this huge community opposition and risk its reputation to push ahead with risky ultra-deepwater drilling in the pristine, deep and rough waters of the Great Australian Bight?

“We do not want Equinor’s oil rigs but we would welcome its world-leading technology to develop renewable energy in Australia.”

The Port Lincoln Council motion states: “That the Council of the City of Port Lincoln stands with our local industries of fishing, aquaculture and tourism in expressing concern about the observed effects of seismic testing and the devastating consequences of a possible major oil spill, and we therefore declare our opposition to exploration and drilling for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight.”

Mr Owen said: “Six South Australian councils – including Port Adelaide and South Australia’s biggest council, Onkaparinga – have passed resolutions opposing oil and gas in the Bight since May when Kangaroo Island mayor Peter Clements travelled to Statoil-Equinor’s annual general meeting in Norway to ask the oil giant to drop its Bight plans.

“In May more than a thousand people lined the shores across Australia to oppose offshore oil and gas exploration and calling Statoil-Equinor to drop its Bight plans at Hands Across the Sands events from New South Wales right across to Western Australia. About 500 people attended the Adelaide event at Semaphore Beach alone,” he said.

“The international Hands Across the Sand movement grew from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 when 800 million litres of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Great Australian Bight waters are deeper, more treacherous and more remote than the Gulf of Mexico. BP’s own oil spill modelling showed 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. A spill could hit Adelaide in 20 days and could hit Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island in 15 days.

“A spill would be devastating for South Australia’s $442 million fishing industry and its tourism industries 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 clean-up but the South Australian Oyster Growers Association says that SA and neighbouring states probably have only 20 vessels that could operate safely in the waters where BP-Statoil planned to drill.

“The Great Australian Bight is a unique, pristine marine environment, with 85 per cent of its marine species found only in these waters.

“The Bight is a haven for 36 species of whales and dolphins, including the world’s most important nursery for the endangered southern right whale.

The Bight is Australia’s most important sea lion nursery and supports seals, orcas, giant cuttlefish, great white sharks and some of Australia’s most important fisheries.”

The South Australian councils opposing oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight are: Port Adelaide-Enfield, Port Lincoln, Kangaroo Island, Victor Harbor, Yorke Peninsula, Onkaparinga, Yankalilla, Holdfast Bay, Marion, West Torrens, Elliston and Alexandrina.

Greenpeace welcomes Port Lincoln decision

Greenpeace says the council decision is yet another blow to Norwegian oil giant Equinor, which is currently planning to begin exploration activities next year.

“The decision by Port Lincoln council shatters any pretense of a social license for oil companies in the Great Australian Bight that might be claimed by the oil industry and its lobbyists such as APPEA,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner, Nathaniel Pelle, said.

“Port Lincoln is home to the largest fishing fleet in the southern hemisphere and is the centre of an industry, and the long-term jobs that go with it, that supplies more than a quarter of Australia’s seafood catch by value. These industries and jobs would be put at risk by the routine oil spills and seismic blasting that are part of oil drilling and in the case of a catastrophic accident like the Deepwater Horizon disaster they’d be wiped out permanently.

“We welcome Port Lincoln council’s leadership and would ask that any government that puts oil company profits before the Bight environment and the jobs in harmony with nature should take note.”

The twelve SA councils which have voted to oppose oil drilling represent 407,500 voters and there are currently 1.197 million voters currently enrolled to vote in SA. The Victorian council of Moyne has also moved to oppose the drilling.

Pelle said that the wide opposition to oil drilling meant that it would be a pivotal issue in the upcoming federal election.

“The Australian people have repeatedly sent the message to our government that we want clean energy and transport, powered by renewables,” he said.

“Our elected representatives must listen to their voters and tell the fossil fuel industry there is no room in the Bight for dangerous oil exploration.”

Greens Party also celebrates council move

Port Lincoln Council’s decision is a pivotal moment in the campaign to protect the Great Australian Bight, the Greens say.

“Port Lincoln has sent a clear message this week in support of keeping oil and gas drilling out of the Bight,” Greens environment spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

“This is another council joining the chorus of community leaders against drilling in the Bight. The Labor and Liberal parties, who have so far failed the growing number of South Australians opposed to drilling in the Bight, are on notice.

“Port Lincoln’s official opposition to drilling for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight is a pivotal moment in the campaign. The councillors who have worked hard on this proposal, and the local fishing industries fighting oil and gas drilling should be commended.

“Chaining ourselves to fossil fuels production at a time when we need to be transitioning away from dirty energy sources is madness. South Australians are proud of our state’s clean, green image.

“The Bight is a beautiful, pristine marine environment and it must be protected. The Greens’ campaign to nominate the Great Australian Bight for World Heritage protection in 2020 has thousands of supporters, and 74 per cent of South Australians polled recently backed the push.

“The Greens will keep fighting with local communities, councils and our tourism and fishing industries to stop oil and gas drilling in the Bight.”