Fight for the Bight
Words by Lachlan Bromfield
Last Friday we experienced one of the largest climate protests Australia has ever seen. In light of this outrage over the our government’s inaction concerning climate change you wouldn’t expect to see the green light on a major oil drilling operation in the Great Australian Bight. This however, is exactly what has just happened with Norwegian energy company Equinor releasing their draft for such a plan on the 19th of February.
If anything about this sounds familiar it is because just two years ago, in June of 2017, BP and Chevron gave up on their own plans to drill in the Bight. This decision was made due to BPs own extensive spill modelling deeming the site high-risk as well as efforts undertaken both locally by government and community bodies as well as internationally by Greenpeace managed to stave them off. It was at this time that BP and Equinor (previously named Statoil) organised a permit swap involving four exploration permits in the Bight. Equinor transferred its 30% equity interest on permits EPP-37/EPP-38 to BP exiting the licenses. In exchange BP transferred its 70% equity interest on permits EPP-39/EPP-40 to Equinor. It is these two permits; the very same permits BP couldn’t justify, which have already been approved.
With these permits Equinor aims to begin drilling operations by the end of 2020 with seismic testing and exploratory wells at the suggested sites already set to be underway by October this year.
For those unfamiliar, seismic testing is a process whereby compressed air beams or focused sonic waves are fired at the ocean floor to detect the presence of oil or gas reserves. These blasts are repeated every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days and weeks at a time. Now for anyone who remembers a bit of primary school biology you might have had the thought, “Hey, don’t a lot of marine animals rely on sound to communicate and navigate?” the answer is yes they do. These animals would not appreciate the underwater equivalent of a mad-lad at the back of the bus blasting noise through his destroyed iPhone 3 directly into their ears for months on end. Impacts of the testing include temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, and even beach strandings and death.
Despite its lack of PR the Great Australian Bight is home to the Great Southern Reef which generates $10 billion each year for the Australian economy through fisheries and tourism. For some perspective that is 50% more than its celebrity cousin the Great Barrier Reef. The Bight is considered one of the most significant whale nurseries in the world, providing shelter to many threatened and endangered species. It is estimated that up approximately 85% of South Australian marine plants and animals are found nowhere else on the planet. Essentially it is a prime candidate for an ecosystem the human race should keep our grubby hands off.
And what would that damage look like were the operation to go haywire? Pictured above is a graphic of a worst-case scenario from Equinor’s own publicly available proposal. If it looks bad, please realise that this is the image they chose in place of another (pictured below) more confronting (read: realistic) graphic which was featured more prominently in an earlier draft leaked to Greenpeace but can still be found tucked away out of sight deep in the appendix.
BP’s disastrous 2010 incident at Deepwater Horizon resulted in 800 million litres of crude oil being pumped directly into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days. BP’s Well Operation Management Plan from when they held the permits demonstrated that a spill in the Bight could double the size of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. One of Equinor’s protocols in the event of a spill is the deployment of a piece of machinery called a ‘capping stack’ to hinder the flow of oil. Their own proposal concedes that it would take 15 days for this device to be deployed as it is unable to be kept on site and must be transported from Singapore. This means a minimum of 15 days where oil is flowing completely unchecked directly into our oceans. In total they estimate it would be 102 days before the flow is stopped completely however there is little justification for where this number came from. There is little to no plan for how to clean up an accident should one occur.
If you’ve made it this far and the idea of this terrifies you as much as it did me, I urge you to take a few seconds out of your day to sign the Greenpeace petition to stop this project. People power has stopped planned drilling in the Bight before and we can do it again.
Sign the petition here.