AMCS warns about impact of test drilling

November 28, 2023 BY

This map from the environmental plan shows the proposed areas (in orange hatch) where the test drilling will take place. Photo: SUPPLIED

THE Australian Marine Conservation Society (ACMS) has warned about the possible impact of a proposed oil drilling project off the Otway coast, with modelling showing a spill could reach as far north as Jervis Bay in NSW.

ConocoPhillips Australia are considering drilling up to six exploration wells at locations 19km off the Victorian coastline and 28km offshore of King Island, Tasmania.

The company lodged its draft Environmental Plan for its Otway Exploration Drilling Program with the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) last week, and ACMS is alarmed that a possible scenario in the plan’s own modelling shows oil from an uncontained wellhead blowout travelling both east and west.

“A spill from ConocoPhillips’ test drilling program could be devastating for Australia’s most populated coast, from South Australia across Victoria to NSW, as well as Tasmania and King Island,” AMCS oil and gas campaign manager Louise Morris said.

“What are referred to as ‘low’ impacts would need active beach clean-up operations.

“What are described as ‘moderate’ impacts would be lethal for marine life in the oceans and shorelines of the Bass Strait and along the coasts of Victoria and Tasmania.

“The modelling shows spills could also carry toxic hydrocarbons like oil into Macquarie Harbour, the last refuge of the endangered Maugean skate.”

She said the footprints of the six sites overlapped the Zeehan Commonwealth Marine Park, which was an important calving grounds for southern right whales and a feeding ground for blue whales.

“That’s not to mention the 30 other species of whales and dolphins we know come through these waters.

“Australia’s south-eastern seas contain some of the richest, most diverse life on the planet, from the warm temperate waters around South Australia, Victoria and NSW to the cool temperate waters around Tasmania.”

Ms Morris said Australians “did not want oil and gas exploration and drilling in our southern seas”, and referred to the community opposition – including in the Geelong region – that stopped BP, Chevron and Equinor from drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

“In August 2023, more than 30,000 people had made submissions to offshore oil and gas regulator NOPSEMA over a proposal by TGS and SLB-Schlumberger to conduct seismic blasting in the same region looking for gas.

“We cannot allow more oil and gas industrialisation in Australia’s south-east seas, where marine life is already experiencing multiple threats, including climate change, with the waters there warming three to four times the global average.

“The Environment Plan presented for public comment does not give enough detail on the areas that would be impacted by a wellhead blowout and spill, although what it does show is that the environment that may be affected is massive.

“This threat cannot be underplayed.”

To read ConocoPhillips Australia’s Environmental Plan, head to consultation.nopsema.gov.au/environment-division/7618

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