Great Australian Bight drilling report 'whitewashes' oil spill risk, Greenpeace says


February 19, 2019 14:55:37

The company proposing to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight has released its environment plan, but Greenpeace has accused it of downplaying the risk of a major spill.

Key points:

  • Norwegian company Equinor has released an environment plan on Bight drilling
  • Greenpeace says it omits crucial information about the consequences of a spill
  • The company says a capping stack to block a leak would be kept in Singapore

In November, the ABC revealed an internal draft emergency plan prepared by the Equinor, which showed oil could reach as far as Port Macquarie under a “worst credible case” scenario.

The leaked document obtained by Greenpeace contained maps of Australia’s coastline which outlined the extent of a potential spill.

However, the group said those projections were missing from the company’s official draft environment plan which had been released today.

“This report whitewashes over the danger,” senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said.

“They’ve left out the information that is likely — and very rightly and justifiably — to frighten people who live along the coastline.

“What Equinor has done is remove the most confronting images from that environment plan and buried them in an appendix which most people are not going to be able to find.”

The 426-page report discusses a range of measures the company would take to reduce the impact of a disaster, including a piece of machinery called a “capping stack” to plug a major leak.

However, the company conceded the capping stack would not be kept on site, and would take 15 days to be transported from Singapore.

“To be clear, that means oil flowing freely into the ocean for 15 days,” Mr Pelle said.

“To kill the well, to stop it permanently — which took BP 149 days in the Gulf of Mexico — Equinor are guessing they could do it in 102 but there’s really nothing in here to justify why they make that argument.

“There’s no plan for how they’re going to clean up an accident if it occurs.”

Mr Pelle said it was hard to see “how any responsible regulator would approve the plan as it stands”.

‘Lessons learned’ from Deepwater Horizon disaster

The company wants to start drilling at a depth of almost 2.5 kilometres by the end of 2020, but needs approval from the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

“The [environment plan] details what Equinor will do in the very unlikely event that anything goes wrong,” the Equinor Australia manager Jone Stangeland said.

“This includes a plan about how we would work with the southern states to protect the coastline.”

The company insisted that drilling could be carried out safely and said it presented “a big opportunity for South Australia”.

“Equinor has implemented strict barriers to prevent a spill, [prepared] intervention and mitigation measures as backup and is confident that the risk has been reduced,” the report stated.

“Lessons learned from major incidents in the last decade, in particular the Deepwater Horizon [incident] in 2010, have resulted in the advancement of regulations.”

The report also considered the likely impacts on human and marine life, as well as marine industries, in the event of an “unplanned loss of well control”.

“Commercial fisheries and aquaculture may be affected by temporary fishery closures, restrictions on sales … or effects to market value,” the report said.

It found the socio-economic impact of an oil spill “would vary … but have potential for long-term effects to the region and state economies”.

“Some fish species of commercial value, specifically the southern bluefin tuna are seasonally present in the area largely in the first quarter of the year … [and] could be potentially exposed to elevated hydrocarbon concentrations in the water column,” the report said.

“The effect of a 102-day release of oil on Australian sea lions could have a very long or permanent impact on a population that is already in decline.”

The draft environment plan has been put to public consultation for 30 days, which Greenpeace said was not long enough to allow expert assessment.

“There are a lot of things that Equinor could have proposed in this document that would reduce risk,” Mr Pelle said.

“This is not the safest plan they could come up with.

“Australian rules, unfortunately, don’t even require them to put forward the safest plan possible. They just have to put forward the safest plan that they think is cost-effective.”

Coal gasification project prepares for next phase

The proposal is not the only controversial drilling project to mark a milestone in South Australia.

Leigh Creek Energy has announced that it has extracted “commercial quantities of synthetic gas” from a former mine site, more than 500 kilometres north of Adelaide.

The company said it was the first time coal gasification technology had been successfully used in such a way in South Australia and was a “key step” towards commercial operation.

“The upgraded status will enable the company to access SA’s largest gas resource for commercial development outside the Cooper Basin,” the company said in a statement.

The technology is similar to fracking and occurs in coal seams.

The project has been criticised by Conservation SA.

It said coal gasification had led to groundwater contamination in the United States and a methane explosion in Spain.

Unlike fracking, coal gasification does not rely on pumping in pressurised fluid but uses underground combustion to isolate and collect gases.

“These are significant milestones that unlock a large energy resource,” Leigh Creek Energy managing director Phil Staveley said.

“[It] captures key data that proves and validates this disruptive technology will be successful in a commercial application.”

















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