Oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight safe, says the APPEA

The peak national body representing Australia’s oil and gas exploration and production industry, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) says they support oil drilling and exploration in the Great Australian Bight and that “there is no reason South Australia cannot have a safe, sustainable and successful offshore petroleum industry.”

This comes in the wake of criticism from environmental organisations, fishery bodies and fifteen councils who say seismic testing adversely affects marine life and that the risks associated with oil drilling in the Bight are too great.

APPEA’s Director of External Affairs Matthew Doman said there are risks that need to be managed but the industry has a “long and strong track record of doing that.”

“The conditions in the Great Australian Bight are comparable to environments around the world (including offshore Canada and the Norwegian Sea) where the oil and gas industry has operated safely for decades,” said Mr Doman.

Australian authorities only approve oil and gas activities when and where they can be conducted safely and with minimal environmental impact. 

“It is clearly essential that oil exploration and development is only undertaken by companies with experience and expertise to do so safely and sustainably, and that they have the financial strength to meet all obligations.”

Environmental groups including the Wilderness Society have raised serious concerns over approved seismic testing in the Bight for later this year, over fears marine life is at risk.

“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.

Mr Doman said measures in place during the survery would mitigate risks however. “The measures are deemed to be practicable and adequate to mitigate any risks to marine life, and will also provide a valuable opportunity to observe the behavioural responses of the species if they are present,” he said.

The oil and gas industry is committed to ensuring our operations are based on the best available science, and we are a major supporter of ongoing research on the marine environment.”

Successful oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight could see the creation of more than 2,000 jobs in South Australia and generate over $7 billion in average annual tax revenue to Federal and State governments over the next four decades, according to a study by ACIL Allen Consulting. 

Mr Doman said the benefits of this activity would be widely spread, including in key regional centres such as Port Lincoln and Ceduna, where onshore facilities and services are likely to be based.

“Successful development could also address a significant decline in Australia’s oil production over the last 10 years. We now import over 80% of the oil we use,” he said.

The APPEA said claims of environmental harm from offshore oil and gas activity are not borne out by “decades of safe, sustainable exploration and development in Australian waters.”

According to the body, fisheries in regions that host oil and gas activities continue to be some of the most productive in Australia.

“Likewise, there is no evidence of whales being harmed. In fact, whale populations are increasing significantly, including in areas with long-standing oil and gas operations,” said Mr Doman.

The APPEA does admit recent studies have shown a limited, short term impact of seismic surveys on plankton, but said there is no evidence to suggest lasting or regional impacts.

“Neither whales nor tuna are expected to be in the area during the survey period, but it is recognised that there is the possibility of they may enter the area earlier than expected,” said Mr Doman.

“We acknowledge there are many in the community with questions and concerns, and some who outright oppose all oil and gas development.

“We’re confident once South Australians focus on the strong track record of our industry and the significant benefits that flow from our activity, support for exploration will grow.

“We remain committed to responding to genuine questions and concerns and countering the scaremongering.”