Community outcry delays seismic blasting projects in Otway Basin

July 11, 2024 BY

TWO proposed major seismic blasting projects in the Otway Basin have been significantly delayed following community outcry over the impacts on marine life and the environment.

The projects have been postponed as the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) reviews their environmental plans following serious concerns about the consultation process, and the impact on fisheries and the environment.


Seismic surveying, also known as seismic blasting, is a precursor to offshore oil and gas drilling. It involves ships towing setups of airguns and sound receivers through the water. These devices release intense blasts into the ocean to map the ocean floor. The blasts reach a rating of 250 decibels, which is higher than that of atomic bombs.


The largest of the two projects, proposed by data firm TGS and energy company SLB, is seeking a Special Prospecting Authority (SPA) permit to conduct seismic surveying, widely known as seismic blasting, across 31,500sqkm of the Otway Basin.


READ MORE: TGS rejects consultation sessions in Aireys Inlet and Lorne


TGS had previously been required to resubmit the plans to the regulator due to failures in public consultation and considerations of endangered species including pygmy blue whales.

A new environment plan was resubmitted on June 13, and NOPSEMA was expected to make a decision by tomorrow (Saturday, July 13).

However, that date has now been pushed back further.


READ MORE: Survey reveals strong opposition to seismic blasting


Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) oil and gas campaign manager Louise Morris said the society was waiting on further details.

“Today we were informed by NOPSEMA that this has been pushed back, and they do not expect to make a decision on whether to approve this EP, or send it back to the drawing board again, before July 29,” Ms Morris said.

“We could be looking at an early August period for a next decision point.”


Australian Marine Conservation Society campaign manager Louise Morris is advocating that the Australian government abolish SPA permits. Photo: SUPPLIED


The second seismic blasting proposal, by CGG, covers more than 4000sqkm of ocean off the coast of Warrnambool near southern right whale calving grounds.

This proposal also faced serious concerns regarding consultation, environmental impacts, and impacts on Sea Country and fisheries.

The environment plan for this project was resubmitted on June 10 and a decision was initially expected by July 10.

“Today CGG sent an email advising that the regulator will not be making a decision on this latest version of the EP until later in August,” Ms Morris said.


READ MORE: Residents demand accountability for seismic blasting proposal


Both projects are applying to use a SPA permit, which Morris described as “a fast, cheap, and reckless permit that exists outside of the usual acreage release and permit process”.

Community advocates say SPA permits allow companies to bypass usual scrutiny and the usual requirement that companies pass the fit and proper person test.

“AMCS is advocating that the Australian government abolish SPA permits, which they have the power to do, to clean up the industry and take out these cowboy permits that facilitate harmful seismic blasting,” Ms Morris said.

Ms Morris said the delays represented a temporary reprieve for the ocean and marine life in the Otway Basin.


Originally published: July 11 at 4.00 am. Updated: July 9 at 7.30 am.

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