South Coast waters under threat if BP oil exploration goes ahead in Great Australian Bight

TOO MUCH RISK: Moira Jenkins is concerned on the risk associated with any oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight by BP and its impact on south coast waters.
TOO MUCH RISK: Moira Jenkins is concerned on the risk associated with any oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight by BP and its impact on south coast waters.

REGION – Conservation groups and local government are deeply concerned BP’s exploratory oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight could pose a risk to the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Organisations, including the City of Victor Harbor, have lodged their disapproval of the proposal which may impact on the activity of migratory whales, and pose the risk of a spill that would affect Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island waters.

In late April the City of Victor Harbor gave a submission at the Australian Senate inquiry into BP’s Bight oil drilling. The inquiry looked into the impacts of the BP project and any future oil or gas production in the Bight. Sixty-three other submissions were made.

The Senate inquiry committee was disbanded when the federal election was called and it is unclear how the inquiry will progress. 

City of Victor Harbor CEO Graeme Maxwell represented council at the inquiry. He said the Fleurieu is the number one tourist destination in the state with Victor Harbor hosting about 1.2 million visitors annually, generating an estimated $136.2 million.

“Many day trippers come during the winter months to marvel at the Southern Right Whales that visit our coast to congregate and to calve,” Mr Maxwell said. “This is a migration that has occurred since well before European settlement. Each year the Southern Right Whales are sighted at the head of the Great Australian Bight several weeks before they appear on our coastline.

“It has taken many years for this migration to re-establish since commercial whaling ceased and it has become a marketable experience to view the whales up close and in their natural environment. It provides economic stimulus in our quieter winter months.

“Exploratory drilling by BP in the Great Australian Bight represents a high risk to our economy. An oil spill within the Bight may represent a low occurrence risk, however such an event would represent a potentially catastrophic consequence risk,” he said.

He said the consequences of an oil spill would be felt in the region. 

“If an oil spill interfered with or discouraged the annual migratory habits of Southern Right Whales or other migratory species, there will be economic and social consequences for our community and our visitors.”

Mr Maxwell pointed to the 2010 BP deep water drilling rig blow out in the Gulf of Mexico to show how extensive consequences could be. 

Catastrophe for coast: councillor

REGION –  Former Independent Greens candidate and City of Victor Harbor councillor Moira Jenkins said the oil drilling issue is a sleeping giant.

“It will have a big impact on all of us and I am more than happy to be the councillor who stands up against this,” Cr Jenkins said. 

“While BP say the risk of a spill is low, if a spill occurs it has catastrophic consequences for our environment, the whole south coast, the tourism economy, the fishing industry and our residents. 

“I have been standing against this for a number of years, first as a Greens candidate standing with the Kangaroo Island community who are against it and now as a politically interdependent local councillor who will fight for Victor Harbor on this issue. It is not worth the risk.

“It poses a catastrophic risk if there is a spill for the pristine south coast environment, for our whales, penguins, seals and our whole marine eco-system.”

Cr Jenkins said any oil spill or leak will drift with the tides and currents and will affect the livelihoods of mums and dads and small business. 

“You only need to look at the impact on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to see how devastating the consequences would be if something similar happened here. We don't need a large spill to cause this catastrophe, but any leaks and small spills will have a terrible impact on our coast,” she said. 

Cr Jenkins would like to see all the councils on the south coast, including Kangaroo Island, join together to lobby against oil drilling and exploration in the Bight. 

“We need to make a firm stand against it. The risk for our areas are too great.” 

The Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen said the public can have no trust in BP after the Gulf of Mexico disaster or in Australia’s offshore oil and gas authority, NOPSEMA (National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority).

“NOPSEMA has little expertise in environmental matters of national and international significance,” Mr Owen said. 

“The Bight’s pristine waters are a haven for 36 species of whales and dolphins, including the world’s most important southern right whale nursery as well as many humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales. The Bight also supports magnificent migratory seabirds that Australia has international obligations to protect.”

The Wilderness Society said NOPSEMA has no experience in assessing the cumulative impacts of all the oil exploration planned for the Bight, with 16 risky exploration wells slated for the next five years and demands the Australian Government set up an independent expert panel to assess the environmental and social impacts of the plans by BP and other oil companies wanting to drill in the Bight.

Whales, other animals at risk: Dolphin Watch

REGION – Kangaroo Island/Victor Harbor Dolphin Watch says the Fleurieu is at risk of losing the attraction of whale watching if oil exploration goes ahead in the Great Australian Bight.

Dolphin Watch coordinator Tony Bartram said where BP planned to begin oil drilling was significant because of the whale movement. 

"You can't have that level of noise blasted into the ocean without any impact. They (whales) will turn away but there's not enough real data to say if they will come back when the noise stops.”

He said fisheries would be affected, as would tourism.

"The clean, green branding of the Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island would be impacted therefore tourist numbers would drop,” he said.

"There are tens of thousands of people who come to Victor Harbor to see the whales. If you impact the number of whales, you impact the economy."

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