The search for oil and gas continues − but at what cost?

Margaret Thiselton

From Chain Reaction #122, Nov 2014,

In January 2011, the Federal Government awarded BP four permit areas in the Great Australia Bight (GAB). Chevron has since been awarded two areas, and Murphy Oil and Santos have jointly been awarded one. These permit areas are 300 km south-west of Ceduna and 400 km south-west of Port Lincoln in South Australia. The purpose of these 'permitted areas'? The hunt for oil and gas.

BP is the only company to have so far completed the seismic testing of its permit areas, and according to its website (which is severely lacking in information), exploratory drilling is to commence in the summer of 2015/16. What is alarming to people who know the area is how reckless and ill-considered this venture is. The ocean conditions in the GAB are amongst the roughest in the world, with swells regularly reaching 12−15 metres. BP has admitted that this is a first for the company and has described the weather conditions as "extreme".

Furthermore BP wants to drill 1.5–5 kilometres deep into the ocean floor. The technology does exist to drill these depths, but it is so far only being implemented in waters considered calm in comparison to the GAB: waters such as those of the Gulf of Mexico, the site of the terrible tragedy in 2010. Eleven people lost their lives when BP's oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded during the exploratory phase of the project. Five million barrels of crude oil spilled out into America's seafood bowl, poisoning everything in its way during the 87 days the well leaked. The chemical dispersants, most notoriously corexit, used to 'clean' the spill continue to cause problems including marine life die-off and deformities. All along the coast numerous locals complain of skin lesions and respiratory problems. All the while BP has denied the enormous scale of its long-term impacts.

The Gulf of Mexico accident occurred in water only 1.5 kilometres deep. Now BP asks the people of South Australia to trust them to drill in the GAB? BP has not released an environmental plan for this project. This plan should include oil spill modelling data − a computer generated model of where oil would likely spill onto under various weather conditions. The Wilderness Society has formally requested these documents and was refused. These documents have also been requested under Freedom of Information but they cannot be released as they fall under the business confidentiality category. How convenient.

BP has, however, admitted that if there is a spill, a best-case scenario would result in a plume of oil stretching 760 km. Because of this appalling lack of transparency, a group has been formed along the coast of SA under the name Clean Bight Alliance Australia (CBAA). This group is currently pushing for the SA government to demand that BP release these plans before any drilling commences.

We are encouraging seafood industries to consider the risks and we want the sea to be recognised for the food resources it produces and the jobs it provides. The GAB has an extensive wealth of marine life, with 90 % being unique to the area. The waters off the coast are crucial to many species such as the southern right whale, blue fin tuna and the Australian sea lion. The GAB waters are some of the most pristine and unpolluted in the world. This means that the people in the region are able to produce some of the world's most perfect, delicious seafood including oysters, mussels, lobsters and tuna.

CBAA believes that there is just too much at stake in the area to allow a multinational corporation to continue without scrutiny and transparency. CBAA sees the need to look beyond oil and gas and sees huge potential for local jobs in the sustainable energy sector. We need help making sure the GAB is protected.

For more information head to our Facebook page and while you're there, follow the links to sign our online petition urging the SA government to demand BP release its environmental plan.