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Risking it all – BP and the Great Australian Bight

This week a Senate inquiry was announced to investigate BP’s proposal to search for oil in the Great Australian Bight off South Australia.

The oil giant wants to drill four deep-water exploration wells in the ocean floor about 300 kilometres south west of Ceduna, believing the stocks to be of global significance.

Last November, BP’s first application was rejected by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environment Management Authority (NOPSEMA) for failing to meet environmental requirements. But NOPSEMA has given BP the opportunity to submit another application once it has worked on its environmental plan.

BP is currently preparing its second application so the Senate inquiry is good timing for the alliance of conservation and tourism groups campaigning to see the proposal rejected outright.

BP’s proposal to drill for oil under the ocean has major implications for the whole southern coast. Modelling by the Wilderness Society has shown that an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight would devastate the tourism and fishing industries in southern Australia, impacting most of the southern coastline.

The Great Australian Bight

The Great Australian Bight stretches along 1,160 kilometres of coastline, from pristine beaches to soaring cliffs across four States. It’s home to globally significant nurseries for the endangered southern right whale and Australian sea lion, and a foraging ground for blue whales. Eighty-five per cent of known marine species in the Bight are found nowhere else in the world making it a truly unique marine habitat.

“The Bight is one of the most significant whale nurseries in the world, it’s a marine wilderness that’s never been industrialised,” said Peter Owen, director of the Wilderness Society’s South Australia branch.

The Great Southern Bight also supports a huge commercial fishing and tourism industry, both of which rely on the pristine environment. The industries employ over 10,000 in South Australia and are worth about $1.6 billion to the economy.

Seismic Testing

A key issue which has been raised is the seismic blasting which BP would perform in their initial search for oil.

Seismic testing is a controversial method of searching for oil and gas reserves using sound blasts. These surveys involve low-frequency, high-intensity sound pulses every few seconds, 24 hours a day, over a number of months which can travel for thousands of kilometres.

There is ongoing concern that this method of exploration could be harmful to marine mammals with whales, dolphins, sea turtles and commercial fish the key species set to be impacted by seismic blasts.

In 2014 the US Government released their findings in an Environmental Impact Statement. It found that the impact for marine mammals could be “moderate” with risks of physical injury and death, strandings, disruption to migration, feeding, reproduction, communication or other behaviours caused by the stress of seismic noise.

BP’s track record

Given BP’s appalling environmental track record it’s absurd that the proposal is being considered at all.


We all remember the images from BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster which crippled communities, destroyed ecosystems across the Gulf of Mexico, and killed 11 people. This, the worst marine oil spill in history, occurred only 6 years ago in 2010.

Millions of barrels of oil pumped out from the underwater well and could not be curbed for 87 days.

BP is facing a Mexican class action lawsuit over the Deepwater Horizon spill after failing to pay compensation to Mexico for the massive clean up bills following the disaster. Hundreds of coastal communities who rely on fishing and tourism saw their livelihoods destroyed, a legacy which continues.

BP affirms that any leak in the Great Australian Bight could be controlled within 35 days, despite internal documents revealing that equipment would need to be imported from Singapore and Houston to control the leak.

In 2006, BP pipelines spilled over 200,000 gallons of crude oil in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The disaster was caused by BP’s failure to properly maintain its pipelines as well as a failure to act on alarms indicating the pipes were leaking.

BP also has a shady history with the law. US investigators found that over a period of 5 years, BP admitted to breaking US environmental and safety laws, paying $373 million in fines to avoid prosecution.

BP’s abysmal track record far outweighs other oil companies operating in the US with its refineries in Texas and Ohio accounting for 97% of violations handed out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These violations are handed out when a company shows “intentional disregard for the requirements of the [law], or showed plain indifference to employee safety and health.

Environmental track record aside, BP is in serious financial trouble as economies move away from fossil fuel. Earlier this month BP recorded record losses of $6.5 billion and shed 7,000 jobs globally. King Oil is dying and won’t return.

Risking it all

The fossil fuel industry believes it can safely operate in the region. But given that only 6 years ago BP was responsible for the worst marine oil spill in history, should we really be trusting them?

The ability of the regulatory body NOPSEMA has been called into question with Senator Nick Xenophon arguing that a proposal on such scale is a matter for the Department for the Environment. There is also a question of impartiality. NOPSEMA chairman Keith Spence spent over 30 years in the oil and gas industry and many of the board have ties to the fossil fuel industry. There are no representatives from conservation or environmental NGOs which is of great concern.

BP believes that the risk of a disaster, and any oil reaching the coast is “relatively low”. Is that a risk we really want to take?



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  1. Pingback: Risking it all – BP and the Great Australian Bight – Kate's Enviro Blog

  2. gangey1959

    It seems blindingly obvious that Seismic testing is too untried and untested a method of exploration to be utilised in such a globally significant and environmentally sensitive area, and before any physical drilling takes place at all, anywhere, get the equipment to stop any leaks or spills into the base of operations in South Australia before they start f*cking it all up.
    Maybe, if bp invested the cash they have into rewnewables in Australia instead of oil and other shit they might make money instead of losing it.

  3. Salstarat

    This looks like yet another potential DEVASTING environmental catastrophe in the making no doubt supported to the hilt by the WORST anti-Environmental Sinister-Minister in living memory, Greg Hunt who will go down in history as the most morally bankrupt WHORE to the oil, coal and gas industries! This short-sighted government are the Grim Reapers of our environment – hell bent on making transient profits that will annihilate and permanently devastate rare, pristine ecosystems that can never be replaced. Their reckless disregard for the future preservation of beautiful environments for our children and grandchildren to enjoy and savour, is CRIMINAL. Over and over again the LNP seem to be on a rampage, willing to sell and destroy ANYTHING and EVERYTHING for the sake of the almighty dollar. Over and over again this loathsome pack of reprehensible profit-obsessed, neoliberal idiots PROVE that they know the COST of everything and the VALUE of nothing! Just when you think the pack of smug, lying grubs in the LNP cannot stoop any lower, they just keep digging. The people of Australia MUST remember that the POWER of the PEOPLE is far, far greater than the pompous, self important people in power and RISE UP and make a stand to protect our environment at all costs! Our precious, beautiful environment does NOT, repeat NOT, belong to these self serving politicians and foreign multinational predatory oil corporations to rape and pillage at will … it belongs to us and our children and their children.

  4. Denisio Fabuloso

    These bastards cannot be trusted. BP are liars, despoilers and destroyers. We should tell them to piss off.

  5. paul walter

    The SA government wants it, but given the stuff that has happened to SA over recent times, it is little wonder they are forced to more favourable consideration of this sort of stuff, no matter how abject it makes them look.

  6. Shaun Newman

    BP know that they are dealing with a government that allows 579 corporates to go without paying taxes for years on end, so in other words they know that they can do whatever they like, if another spill like the Gulf of Mexico happens well that’s just too bad, they are in pursuit of that almighty dollar. Something that this LNP government knows very well. Go ahead ‘boys’ rape and pillage to your hearts delight knowing that our government is a business government, not a people’s government.

  7. Sir ScotchMistery

    @Denisio – or they could become LNP and ALP politicians, since they have all the required skills.

  8. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Thanks Kate,

    for the timely warning about the BP threat to the Great Australian Bight and its marine life. Kudos to Xenophon for calling for the Dept of Environment to be the decision maker as to whether BP’s 2nd application for oil exploration should be passed. Better than NOPSEMA and its suspect members with dirty energy industries ties.

    Unfortunately however, with Hunt as the Minister for Environment, I’m not sure if that is a safer option but maybe there are more appeal processes possible that can be instituted, if Hunt makes the wrong decision of allowing the application to pass.

  9. win jeavons

    Salstarat ; you said it ,I agree. Time for a new economic/ social paradigm, a new way of being citizens of our beautiful planet.

  10. Pingback: Is the eNGO campaign against BP’s Bight drilling program deceptive? – The Norwood Resource

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