'Stop the devastation': Great Australian Bight seismic testing delayed until next year
Environmentalists say drilling in the Bight poses a major threat to marine life. (Supplied: Richard Robinson/Greenpeace)
A plan to probe the Great Australian Bight for gas and oil using seismic testing has been postponed until next year, according to the company behind the project.
- Seismic testing involves setting off underwater blasts that send soundwaves through the ocean floor
- The testing was set to take place between September and November this year
- PGS was granted permission for the testing to take place by the national petroleum regulator
In January, the national petroleum regulator granted exploration company Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) permission to carry out seismic blasting near Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island.
The seismic testing was set to take place between September and November this year.
The testing involves setting off a series of underwater booms that send soundwaves through the ocean floor, and advocates have said the Bight could be developed into one of the biggest offshore oil fields in the world.
The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) granted permission for the testing to be done over a 30,100-square-kilometre area, located 80 kilometres from Port Lincoln and 90 kilometres west of Kangaroo Island.
Environment groups are celebrating the delay, and have said the technique to detect the presence of oil or gas reserves would hurt the environment.
However, Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) spokesman Matthew Doman said the process was safe and regulated.
“Our industry has conducted seismic surveys for many decades … in a safe and sustainable manner in harmony with the environment and the fishing industry and other users of the marine environment,” he said.
The testing was set to take place between September and November this year. (Martin Davies: ABC)
“Those plans need to be approved by an independent science-based regulatory agency NOPSEMA.
“That has happened in this case so there is no reason to believe that this seismic [testing] cannot be conducted safely, in an environmentally-sustainable manner.”
There has been little research into the impact of seismic testing in Australia, but Western Australian researchers have found noise from seismic air guns significantly increased mortality in scallops.
The fishing industry has also long had reservations about the impact seismic testing would have on the local tuna industry.
PGS has previously been ordered not to interfere with or displace pygmy blue whales, southern bluefin tuna, and southern right whales.
‘It would totally destroy’ the industry
Chief executive of the Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Association, Brian Jeffries, said there was a sense of relief in the tuna industry.
“There’s no doubt that the seismic tests have a major impact on where the fish are and whether they come at all,” he said.
The Southern Bluefin industry is concerned about the impact the testing has on marine eco-systems. (ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)
He said it would “totally destroy” an industry which generated more than 2,000 jobs in South Australia.
“What’s at stake here is not just money — we’re talking about a very large amount of jobs and sustainability as well,” he said.
“We’re talking about destroying a renewable resource which is value-adding all the time.”
PGS has not ruled out going ahead with the tests from next year, but Mr Jeffries said he believed the delays were a sign that the project would ultimately not proceed.
“I’d be reasonably confident that this is not going to happen, ever,” he said.
“We’re reasonably confident that Equinor won’t proceed with the drilling as well … why would they take a very large risk in the Great Australian Bight against that kind of community opposition and with that degree of risk?”
‘Make sure we stop the devastation’
The Greens have also applauded the delay, but said the next step should be to ensure drilling can never take place.
Senator Hanson-Young says the next step should be to seismic testing never takes place. (AAP: Roy VanDerVegt )
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the concern was once seismic testing took place, drilling would start shortly afterwards.
“This is a good reprieve for the Great Australian Bight, the environment and the industries that rely on it being healthy,” she said.
“But we need to make sure we stop the devastation of seismic testing and then the next step of drilling in the Great Australian Bight for good.
“If you say yes to seismic testing, if you let seismic testing happen, it’s only a few steps away from ruining the Great Australian Bight with big oil.”
Greenpeace also welcomed the delay in a statement on its website, but said to ensure the long-term health of the region, all plans for drilling in the Bight should be cancelled.
“The blasts of seismic cannons can be as loud as the epicentre of a grenade and are fired every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks on end,” Greenpeace senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said.
“While the decision to suspend seismic blasting will be most celebrated in South Australia, it’s a win for communities and marine life across the entire southern coast of Australia.”
Opposition mining spokesman Tom Koutsantonis said the delay was all part of gas and oil exploration.
“These are the ebbs and flows of exploration, sometimes companies invest and sometimes they don’t,” he said.
“The Commonwealth Government are the ones who regulate this activity in the Bight.
“They’ll make the decision whether the license will be extended or otherwise.”
Equinor awaiting approval to search
Norwegian oil company Equinor also wants to search for oil off the coast of South Australia by the end of 2020, but needs approval from the national petroleum regulator to begin.
In November, the ABC revealed an internal draft emergency plan prepared by Equinor that showed oil could reach as far as Port Macquarie under a “worst credible case” scenario.
But an environmental report released by Equinor earlier this year said it had protections in place to ensure that situation never eventuated.
According to a report commissioned by APPEA, Equinor’s plans to drill in the Bight could bring up to 1,500 jobs to South Australia over the next 40 years.