Oil spill in Bight could be twice as bad as Deepwater Horizon disaster

BP modelling shows an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight could release more than twice the amount of crude oil that entered the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

A more than two year legal battle by Greenpeace Australia Pacific has revealed oil company documents demonstrating that a Great Australian Bight oil spill could be double the size of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and that safety equipment would be unusable more than a third of the year.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific meanwhile is planning on sending its vessel Rainbow Warrior to Kangaroo Island in the near future to raise awareness of the dangers of Bight drilling. 

RAINBOW WARRIOR: Greenpeace Australia Pacific meanwhile is planning on sending its vessel Rainbow Warrior to Kangaroo Island in the near future to raise awareness of the dangers of Bight drilling.

RAINBOW WARRIOR: Greenpeace Australia Pacific meanwhile is planning on sending its vessel Rainbow Warrior to Kangaroo Island in the near future to raise awareness of the dangers of Bight drilling.

Greenpeace says the Well Operations Management Plan (WOMP) submitted by BP in 2016 reveals critical safety equipment - a capping stack - would be unable to be used more than one third of the year and companies think it would be “highly unlikely” they would be able to access a rig to drill a relief well in the event of a spill.

“This document proves that an oil spill twice as big as the Deepwater Horizon spill could occur in the Bight and, not only that, that there is an exceptionally high risk of it happening,” Greenpeace Senior Campaigner, Nathaniel Pelle, said.

“There is no way to drill safely in the Great Australian Bight, due to the remote and ferocious conditions in the area.”

“BP’s has revealed that no oil company can know what to expect in terms of pressures and temperatures beneath the sea-bed when they drill in the Great Australian Bight, which makes the risk of an accident exceptional when compared to drilling in existing oil provinces.

“Hot oil would come boiling out and flow freely into the Southern Ocean for weeks, at a rate of 54 thousand barrels a day, before the capping device needed to temporarily plug the blown well could be in place - that's if the sea conditions are good. And any fisherman on the southern coastline of Australia can tell you that sea conditions in the Bight are rarely good.”

Pelle said the legal battle raised concerning questions about transparency around deepwater drilling.

“It's disturbing that this plan was accepted by our regulator and even more disturbing that they sought to keep it from the public for two years,” Pelle said.

“One of the lessons from official reviews of both the Deepwater Horizon disaster and our own Montara Spill was that the proposals and decision to drill offshore should be subject to the highest levels of independent scrutiny and that plans like this should be made public before getting approved.”

Equinor’s plans

Norwegian energy giant Equinor plans to explore for oil in the Great Australian Bight and insists it can be done safely. 

Equinor last year acquired two exploration permits from BP, and plans to drill an exploratory well by October next year.

The Morrison government is trying to attract international investors to the Equinor project.

Senator Canavan told Fairfax Media that secure oil and gas supplies “are critical to Australia’s ongoing energy security and to protect manufacturing jobs around the nation”.

“Offshore petroleum exploration activities have occurred safely in Australian waters since the late 1960s,” he said.

But independent South Australian senator Tim Storer said the risks of drilling in the bight “simply don’t justify the rewards”.

He plans to move amendments to federal environment laws that would hand responsibility for assessing such proposals to Environment Minister Melissa Price, to “provide for a more rigorous assessment”.

“Talking to local government, local business, community groups and representatives from the eco-tourism industry, I heard first-hand the devastating impacts a spill would have on regions such as Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the offshore petroleum safety authority said it would not approve a drilling project unless the proponent addressed risks involved in the conditions, water depth and remoteness of the proposed site, adding that “a spill of any petroleum is not acceptable”.

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Greens call for ban

The Australian Greens meanwhile are calling for a ban to offshore drilling in the Great Australian Bight following the release of the modelling, highlighting the dangers to Kangaroo Island.

“It is time to ban offshore oil drilling ever being able to occur in the Bight, to protect our South Australian beaches, our fishing industry, and pristine Kangaroo Island,” Greens environment spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

“The big oil companies and the Federal Government tried to hide this modelling from the public because they don’t want the community to know how high the risks really are.

“If anything should kill off drilling in the Great Australian Bight once and for all, it is this.

“South Australians have rejected this project from day one, and community opposition grows every day. 

“We know 74 per cent of South Australians support World Heritage protection for the Great Australian Bight. 

“We don't want to see the jewel in our tourism crown, Kangaroo Island, and our beautiful beaches covered in oil. 

“We don't want our tourism and fishing industries to be decimated. We should celebrate what the Bight has to offer - 85 per cent of the species that call the Bight home are endemic to the area - rather than risk it all. 

“Corporate profits and oil going offshore, and the risk of an oil spill twice as devastating as one of the worst environmental disasters we've seen in our oceans; Australia has everything to lose and nothing to gain from drilling in the Great Australian Bight. It must be banned.”

The Australian Greens also took issue with Resources Minister Matt Canavan linking petrol prices to drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

 “Saying that letting big oil drill in the Bight will lower petrol prices is plainly wrong and highly misleading,” Ms Hanson-Young said.

“The Minister is either deliberately lying, or he doesn’t know what he’s talking about by trying to link current petrol prices to the push for drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

“The Minister has himself said that drilling for oil in the Bight, if approved, wouldn’t be in operation for at least a decade. Even then, the oil is earmarked for foreign companies to ship straight overseas, not for use here in Australia.

“Thankfully South Australians are not as easily fooled as the Morrison Government seems to think we are. There is no link between today’s petrol prices and the campaign to protect our Bight from devastation of an oil spill. To argue otherwise is a lie.

“South Australians are not willing to risk the devastating impact of an oil spill in the Bight. The jewel in our crown, Kangaroo Island, our tourism and fishing industries, and our precious marine life are too important to risk.

“This hip-pocket manipulation is disrespectful and dishonest to people struggling with mounting cost of living pressures.

“Renewables are on the rise and electric car technology is getting better every day. In 10 years’ time, with a bit of ambition and political will, we will be less reliant on fossil fuels. The UN’s harrowing climate change report makes plain that we urgently need to phase out fossil fuels. We must heed that warning for the planet, and for our communities.

“There is no social licence to drill in the Great Australian Bight. The Greens stand firm with the South Australian community who want our Bight protected.”