The UK-based energy giant BP is set to explore the deep waters of the Great Australian Bight for gas and oil off the coast of South Australia, but it will not be a smooth sailing. Green activists are wary about the danger of oil spills and are demanding details of contingency plans in the event of a disaster.
On Monday, April 20, exactly five years after the Gulf of Mexico oil fire, the Wilderness Society South Australia held a rally against the BP’s marine park venture.
BP has secured four permits from the Australian federal government and South Australian state government to explore Commonwealth marine waters for oil and gas in the bight. The permits seek to determine whether commercial quantities of hydrocarbon resources exist within the permit areas.
Following regulatory approval in 2011, a 3D seismic survey over part of the area was conducted between November 2011 and May 2012. Deep water exploration is expected to push through next year.
The proposed drilling area has water depths of approximately 1000 to 2500 metres. At its closest point, the proposed drilling area is approximately 400 kilometres west of Port Lincoln and 300 kilometres south-west of Ceduna. The wells will be drilled using a new-build mobile offshore drilling unit which has been specially designed for use in deep water.
BP is one of the world’s leading international oil and gas companies. It supplies fuel for transportation, energy for heat and light, lubricants for engines, and petrochemicals products used to make paints, clothes, and packaging.
However, Wilderness Society South Australia is demanding that BP provide comprehensive details on how it would respond to a possible oil spill.
Director Peter Owen said BP refuses to release oil spill modelling or emergency plans for the bight drilling. “BP can’t be trusted in Great Australian Bight,” he said.
BP is still contesting the fines for what Owen called the “worst oil spill in history”.
“Five years after BP’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the British oil giant seems to have not learnt anything with its plans to try deep sea drilling in the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight. BP plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight but refuses to reveal the modelling for any potential oil spill or its emergency response plans,” said Owen.
“The bight is a whale wonderland, boasting the world’s most significant southern right whale nursery as well as humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales. These waters also support orcas, sea lions and some of Australia’s most important fisheries.”
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig which exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and injuring 17 others. The company was drilling off the coast from Houston, but it still took 87 days to plug the well, in which time nearly 800 million litres of oil devastated the waters, coasts, fisheries, marine life, birdlife and livelihoods.
Owen estimates the spill covered more than 180,000 square kilometres, twice the size of Tasmania, and affected 1,770km of shoreline, almost the distance from Melbourne to Brisbane. Only about 25 percent of the oil was recovered, leaving more than half a billion litres of oil in the gulf.
Further, he said millions of litres of toxic dispersants were sprayed into the Gulf’s waters. The dispersants break up the oil but can make it easier to get into the food chain. The spill killed or harmed hundreds of thousands of fish, birds, turtles, whales and dolphins.
“The spill cost billions of dollars in clean-up operations, remediation and the Gulf economy. Five years later, BP is contesting court fines, claiming the fines threaten the existence of the company. Can we trust a company that claims it can’t afford to pay for its last mess, the world’s worst oil spill?” Owen asked.
Owen insisted the Great Australian Bight waters are rougher, deeper and more remote than the Gulf of Mexico and that BP can’t be trusted to drill in the area. “BP and our waters don’t mix,” he said.