Greens, Wilderness Society say Bight seismic testing approval is delayed

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 Australian Greens and the Wilderness Society say National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority has delayed approving the latest application for seismic testing in the Great Australian Bight.

Oil exploration company PGS on November 7, 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 Greens say the regulator was due to make a decision on the application on December 7, however they have extended their deadline due to the complexity of the assessment.

“The survey area stretches 30,100 km2, and would run for 24/7, for three months from September in 2019 and 2020.

“This is one of the closest seismic testing areas to land in the Great Australian Bight. The waters off Kangaroo Island are a vital feeding ground for endangered blue whales.

“PGS has resubmitted its environmental plan three times and had 12 extensions from the regulator to alter its environmental plan.

“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 say.

The Wilderness Society released a statement claiming NOPSEMA needed more time to assess an application by oil and gas exploration services company PGS.

“NOPSEMA has not approved any oil and gas exploration activities in the Bight for four years now,” said Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen.

“Equinor and the remaining oil and gas companies wanting to drill in the Great Australian Bight should see the writing on the wall and follow BP’s and Chevron’s lead in quitting all Bight operations.

“PGS, which planned on doing seismic surveys for possible use by Bight Petroleum and Brazil’s Karoon, has failed to get an approval from NOPSEMA for nearly two years. It’s time to quit this farce.

“Seismic testing is deadly for marine life and can impact all levels of the food chain from the very base, killing zooplankton more than a kilometre away, to deafening whales,” said Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen. “It can kill scallops and impacts the immune systems of lobsters.

 “Seismic testing can have a massive impact on whales and other marine life, with the deafening noise of sonic cannons being able to penetrate hundreds of kilometres into the seabed in thousands of metres of water and carrying on for months on end. It has led to hearing loss in whales, which sometimes can’t hear each other above the extreme noise, and strandings.

“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 and supports seals, orcas, giant cuttlefish and some of Australia’s most important fisheries.

“It’s just not possible to undertake any oil and gas exploration activities in the rough, pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight without having unacceptable impacts on its complex marine environment, its threatened species and the communities that rely on its clean, productive waters.

“BP showed that drilling in the deep, rough waters of the Great Australian Bight was unviable when it could not produce an acceptable drilling plan for Australia’s offshore oil and gas regulator, NOPSEMA. BP’s decision showed that it’s too expensive to establish the costly risk-management and clean-up capacity needed to protect our communities from the enormous spill risks associated with drilling in the Bight. Chevron followed suit and pulled out a year after BP withdrew.

“Equinor, Santos, Murphy and Karoon will face the same massive costs and increasing community opposition that BP and Chevron experienced. Even with BP’s and Chevron’s withdrawal, community concern keeps growing.

“To date, 12 local councils, representing over half a million people, have passed resolutions raising serious concern with plans to expand the oil industry into the Great Australian Bight.

“The Australian Government must now recognise that ultra-deepwater exploration drilling cannot be undertaken safely in the rough waters of the Great Australian Bight, or without presenting completely unacceptable risks to its unique marine environment.

“We should not be expanding the fossil fuel industry into pristine treacherous seas where the risk of spills is far greater than we’ve seen before. A rapid transition away from this industry is our only hope for a liveable climate for our children.

“Equinor’s spill modelling showed a spill could reach the coasts of South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW, threatening Australia’s coastal way of life and livelihoods.”

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young also made a statement.

“It is beginning to look as though the Government regulator is doing the bidding for the big oil and gas companies that want to operate in the Great Australian Bight,” Greens environment spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said. 

“These companies want approval to operate despite the risks seismic blasts and drilling will have on one of the most environmentally pristine places on the planet. 

“There is no safe time to undertake seismic blasting. First, PGS wanted to blast in these waters during juvenile tuna migration, and now they want to do it when blue whales come to feed and southern right whales are calving. The last time there was seismic blasting in South Australian waters, sperm whales beached themselves at Ardrossan and died.

“Seismic blasting is the first step to ruining one of the most unique marine environments in the world, right here on our doorstep. There is no social license for oil and gas drilling in the Great Australian Bight and seismic blasting will devastate the ecosystem.

“NOPSEMA should heed the advice of the community who want our Bight protected. Thousands of people have joined The Greens’ campaign to nominate the Bight for World Heritage Protection and polling shows 74 per cent of South Australians are on board too.

“We don’t want dangerous blasting off Kangaroo Island and we don’t want drilling in our Bight. The Greens will continue to fight to protect the Bight from oil and gas drilling and dangerous seismic testing.”