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The Great Australian Bight

Written by Lara Al Amri

In recent weeks there has been news of a Norwegian energy company Equinor wanting to drill in the Great Australian Bight. They released the draft environmental plan for an exploration well around 370Km off the South Australian Coast, claiming the project could be done “safely”.

Many environmental activists and groups are highly against it, saying “too risky” and it will be “absolutely catastrophic” as there are fragile ecosystems and there is a risk of an oil leak.

The great Australian Bight is one of a kind and also has immense economic value as it is estimated to earn $10 Billion dollars each year from fishing and tourism for the Australian economy. As it is home to thriving seaside communities, whale sanctuaries and undersea creatures that live in the Great Southern Reef. 85% of Great Australian Bight marine life are found nowhere else on Earth. There are even more unique species then the Great Barrier Reef. The endangered Australian sea lion breeds on small islands in the Bight and nowhere else. Sharing the Bight are countless animal communities, such as the critically endangered Southern Bluefin Tuna, great white sharks, albatross, turtles and seahorses.

Where do they plan to drill?

Proposed well, Stromlo-1, is in licence area EPP 39, which is 372 km south of the closest southern coastline and 476 km west of Port Lincoln.

Equinor says that “many people don’t realise there have already been 13 wells drilled in the Great Australian Bight” but why do we need a 14th one to be drilled?

Even though Equinor released their draft, the first thing you notice when you look at the plan is that they try and hide the most confronting images. Maps that show how far an oil spill could reach are hidden in the appendices

Wilderness Society South Australian Director Peter Owens agreed. Mr Owens said modelling had shown that a well blowout in the Great Australian Bight could impact anywhere along all of Southern Australia's coast, from Western Australia, through SA and Victoria, Bass Strait and north to NSW. He said a spill could hit Adelaide in 20 days and could reach Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island in 15 days.

"It's totally irresponsible to be risking the Bight and a liveable climate for our children when the stakes are so high," Mr Owens said. But the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association said the maps like these detail an absolute worst-case scenario.

Equinor says that spills are rare but "the risks associated with drilling exploration wells far offshore are lower because any oil spilled would undergo weeks to months of weathering at sea, during which time its toxicity would be greatly reduced, before reaching sensitive coastal areas". Equinor also added it would also use preventative barriers to minimise the risk of an oil spill and, in the event of a spill, would use multiple layers of well intervention to stop the flow. It would also employ a range of measures to minimise environmental consequences, including the use of dispersants and the mechanical containment and recovery of any oil. It said drilling could start in the summer of 2020/2021. Although the company says a capping stack to block a leak would be kept in Singapore and not on sight, taking 15 days to be transported from Singapore, that means oil flowing freely into the ocean for 15 days.

The Great Australian Bight has immense economic value to Australia and is home to a range of biodiversity. As it is Australia’s Whale nursery and it likely has the highest concentration of dolphins anywhere in the world. And all the way through the Great Australian Bight runs a reef system that supports billions of dollars in fishing and tourism. It has been said that an oil spill would be absolutely catastrophic as it could have long-lasting effects and will possibly cost jobs and would certainly reduce the biodiversity in that area.

Equinor asked the question “is there oil in the Great Australian Bight?” and their answer was “possibly”. Why risk something so unique and precious for oil we do not need? Shouldn’t we be moving towards more sustainable energy?

Equinor has given the public a comment period. For 30 days from Feburary 19th to March 20th 2019, their draft environmental plan will be open for public comment. All submissions must be made directly to the regulator, NOPSEMA, via the link below. they will consider all comments before updating to the Environmental plan and submitting it to the regulator, National offshore Petroleum safety and NOPSEMA for assessment.


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