“Deadly” seismic testing approved for the Bight

Australia’s national offshore oil and gas regulator NOPSEMA, has approved an application by oil and gas exploration services company PGS to conduct seismic surveys in the Great Australian Bight.

This comes after NOPSEMA previously rejected the application multiple times over the past two years.

Endangered: A Southern Right Whale Calf, just one of the species that could be affected by seismic testing. Photo: Wilderness Society SA.

Endangered: A Southern Right Whale Calf, just one of the species that could be affected by seismic testing. Photo: Wilderness Society SA.

Conservation organisations have raised serious concerns on the effect this testing will have on marine life in the region.

The Wilderness Society South Australia said such seismic surveys are “deadly” for marine life and can deafen whales. 

“Seismic testing is deadly for marine life and can impact all levels of the food chain from the very base, from killing zooplankton more than a kilometre away, to deafening whales,” said Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen.

“It can kill scallops and impacts the immune systems of lobsters.

“Seismic testing can have a massive impact on whales and other marine life, with the deafening noise of sonic cannons being able to penetrate hundreds of kilometres into the seabed in thousands of metres of water and carrying on for months on end. It has led to hearing loss in whales, which sometimes can’t hear each other above the extreme noise, and strandings.

“The fishing industry and environmentalists have both called for a Senate inquiry into the impacts of seismic testing.”

The South Australian Whale Centre reacted with “shock and disappointment” in a post on facebook following the announcement.

The organisation said it was unclear what affects the testing will have.

“Testing is scheduled to take place this year from the 1st of September to the end of November, during the peak of Southern Right whale migration,” they said in the statement.

“Expectant mothers travel through this area on their way to calving grounds and return home with young and vulnerable calves in tow.

“It remains to be seen how this will affect the slow growing population of this endangered species.”

Southern Right Whale. Photo by Margan Toenee at Bashams Beach on the 6.8.13, via South Australian Whale Centre facebook.

Southern Right Whale. Photo by Margan Toenee at Bashams Beach on the 6.8.13, via South Australian Whale Centre facebook.

Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie said “there’s sufficient science that says seismic testing can interrupt fish stocks such as bait fish that drive tuna into the fishing grounds, and it can interrupt the movement of whales and other marine species.”

However, the Private Members Bill she introduced into Parliament last year does not include a call to ban any exploration in the Bight.

She said such an act would be a precursor to oil drilling in the Bight, which many in the community of Mayo and, according to polling, most of South Australia are opposed to. 

“They don’t believe we should be drilling in the beautiful pristine environment. This is an environment that has greater biodiversity than the Great Barrier Reef,” she said.

According to Owen, it is unfeasible to carry out any oil and gas exploration activities in the Bight without having unacceptable impacts on the marine environment.

“The Great Australian Bight’s pristine waters are a haven for 36 species of whales and dolphins, including the world’s most important nursery for the endangered southern right whale as well as many humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales. It’s also Australia’s most important sea lion nursery and supports seals, orcas, giant cuttlefish and some of Australia’s most important fisheries,” he said.

“BP showed that drilling in the Great Australian Bight was unviable when it could not produce an acceptable drilling plan for NOPSEMA.

“BP’s decision showed that it’s too expensive to establish the costly risk-management and clean-up capacity needed to protect our communities from the enormous spill risks associated with drilling in the Bight. Chevron followed suit and pulled out a year after BP withdrew.

“Even with BP’s and Chevron’s withdrawal, community concern keeps growing.”

Twelve South Australian local governments who represent over 550,000 residents have so far voiced their concern over oil exploration in the Bight, including the City of Port Lincoln, Kangaroo Island and Onkaparinga. 

Moyne Council and the Surf Coast Shire in Victoria have also expressed concern.

Earlier this month, over 400 people protested at Port Campbell in Victoria, opposing oil drilling in the Bight and calling for the local Corangamite council to join in the chorus of local government opposition.

Owen said the Australian Government had to now recognise that ultra-deepwater exploration drilling cannot be undertaken safely in the Great Australian Bight, or without presenting unacceptable risks to its unique marine environment.

“We should not be expanding the fossil fuel industry into pristine treacherous seas where the risk of spills is far greater than we’ve seen before,” he said.

“A rapid transition away from this industry is our only hope for a liveable climate for our children.

“Equinor’s spill modelling showed a spill could reach the coasts of South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW, threatening Australia’s coastal way of life and livelihoods.”​