18 January 2016

An alliance of environmental groups that includes the high-profile Sea Shepherd organisation has formed to protest against proposed BP oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

BP wants to drill four deep-water exploration wells between 1,000 and 2,500 metres deep, about 300 kilometres south-west of Ceduna.

The company believes the region’s oil stocks have the potential to be of global significance.

In a group announcement held in Adelaide, the Sea Shepherd group said it would join the Great Australian Bight Alliance with the Wilderness Society, Oil Free Seas Kangaroo Island, elders from the Mirning and Kokatha people, and the Clean Bight Alliance Australia, in fighting the proposal.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society isrenowned for its direct action against global threats to marine life, gaining notoriety for its efforts fighting Japanese whale hunting on the high seas.

Sea Shepherd Australia managing director Jeff Hansen said the group stood “proudly with the alliance” and said “no to BP drilling in the Great Australian Bight”.

“Today the Steve Irwin [Sea Shepherd ship] will depart Fremantle Western Australia en-route to the Southern Ocean to patrol for illegal fishing and whaling, and when these whales come back to Australian waters, they face an even greater threat, which is BP drilling,” he said.

The Wilderness Society said the region was the world’s “most significant southern right whale nursery”, Australia’s “most important sea lion nursery”, and was a haven for humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales.

The society’s SA director Peter Owen said the drilling project’s potential for an oil spill was his main concern because it would cause “irreparable damage to the area”.

“Putting at risk a pristine marine environment, an area that sustains a huge fishing industry, a huge eco-tourism industry and one of the most significant whale calving and nursery areas in the world, is simply completely inappropriate,” he said.

The Wilderness Society pointed out BP was responsible for the world’s biggest oil spill accident, in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, when up to 100,000 barrels of oil a day escaped for 87 days from a well blow-out 1.6 kilometres below the surface.

The society commissioned scientific modelling last year, which found even a small spill could cause huge problems for the entire southern coast of Australia, including Western Australia, to Victoria, the Bass Strait and Tasmania.

“An oil spill in the Bight from a deep-sea well blow-out would be devastating for fisheries, tourism and marine life,” Mr Owen said.

Sea Shepherd’s Mr Hansen said whales, dolphins and marine life affected by the Gulf of Mexico disaster “were still washing ashore dead”.

“People are still getting sick and dying from the effects of this oil spill six years ago,” he said.

BP’s initial proposal was rejected by the nation’s oil and gas regulator in November.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environment Management Authority (NOPSEMA) said it was not satisfied that BP’s environmental plan met all of the regulatory requirements.

It said it had given the oil and gas company the opportunity to resubmit a new plan for consideration.

BP last year said it would “work hard” to demonstrate it had its Environmental Plan (EP) “right”.

“It is usual for NOPSEMA to provide initial feedback that titleholders need to address before resubmitting an updated version,” a BP spokesperson said in November.

“NOPSEMA is a diligent and thorough regulator and we expect to have to work hard and take the time to demonstrate that we have got our EP right.”

Extracted in full from ABC News.