Greenpeace Protest Oil and Gas Exploration in Great Australian Bight
29 September, 2016
I have seen multitudes of posts from Greenpeace trying to drum up support, and donations of course, on the back of a protest against BP’s plans for exploration drilling for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight. In their social media material they describe The Bight as ‘Unique,’ ‘Pristine,’ ‘Environmentally Crucial,’ and the latest, ‘home of the southern right whale.’
Firstly, the Great Australian Bight is no more, or less, environmentally important than any other coastline around the world. There is even less reason to consider any part it unique or special, because it is simply so large.
If you take the smallest possible definition, then the outer green line boundary shown on the map above is 1,160 km long with an area of over 300,000 square km. The usual measure for The Bight is the red boundary, at over 2,700 km and a massive area of 1,000,000 square km.
Secondly, it is not the ‘home to the Southern right whales’. The Bight is only one of the many areas southern right whales occur in the southern hemisphere. In the southern summer they stay feeding in the lower regions around the Antarctic Circle, even into the pack ice. In winter, they come to the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa and some oceanic islands to breed. Whales without calves can travel thousands of kilometers in a single winter season in the southern hemisphere area.
Thirdly, one of the most popular Australian coastal areas for southern right whales is in and around Bass Strait. That is the area between mainland Australia and Tasmania. It is estimated that about 1,500 of these whales migrate via the Bass Strait. In 1965 BHP and Esso (now Exxon Mobil) drilled Australia’s first offshore well in the Bass Strait. They and others have been drilling and pumping oil and gas from many rigs in Bass Strait since then. Between 2001 and 2011 Exxon alone drilled 100 wells in Bass Strait.
Fifty years of accident free oil and gas production among the whales!
Finally, there are almost 3,000 subsea oil and gas rigs operating around the world. A picture of a burning BP Deep-water Horizon oil rig is the very rare exception and came at huge cost to BP. It is not an experience they would like to repeat, having cost them tens of billions of dollars.
Fortunately the panic merchants who claimed it would take decades for the Gulf of Mexico to recover didn’t understand that nature has been dealing with oil spills ever since the end of the fifth period of the Palaeozoic era, between the Devonian and Permian periods, or what commonly known as the Carboniferous period. This was the period when the plant and animal matter was laid down to eventually create the ‘fossil fuels’ of today. There are oil seeps throughout the oceans, and in most areas you would never know because natural bacteria breaks down the oil before it even becomes a shiny film on top of the water.
Most oil seeps have not been discovered, plotted or measured. Just one example: researchers have found that natural offshore seeps near Goleta, California, alone have leaked up to 25 tons of oil each day – for the last several hundred thousand years. A picture of Goleta Beach in California, below, shows a healthy coastline despite the ongoing oil seeping.
This point is not that it is OK for oil wells to leak, just that if it did happen then nature can handle it, especially somewhere the size of the Great Australian Bight.
Oil and gas provide the world with not just a cheap fuel source for heating, cooking, transport and electricity, but also the raw materials for just about anything with plastic or rubber, and of course gives us the bitumen on our roads and airport runways.
Is Greenpeace suggesting we deprive ourselves of these things? Can you imagine your lifestyle without them?
If we aren’t going to drill in the Great Australian Bight, and gain the jobs and revenue for Australia, then where?