Disaster coming to a coastline near you

24 02 2011

Many of you already know that against all better judgement, the spectacularly audacious Australian Commonwealth government has granted BP offshore drilling rights in our southern waters.

You’d think that with all the evidence that BP is a company that cannot be trusted with this particular form of resource exploitation, we’d be a little bit more discerning when granting exploration permits to them. Apparently not.

In protest and within my rights as an Australian citizen, I wrote to the Minister responsible for the decision, MP Martin Ferguson (Federal Minister for Resources and Energy) to register my protest:

Dear Minister Ferguson,

As an ecologist, academic and citizen, I find it rather astounding that Australia has permitted the deep-sea exploration of oil by BP in our own back garden. The unreasonable environmental risk aside, it simply equates to poor economics – the very real probability of a disaster on the same scale (or larger) than the Gulf of Mexico’s fiasco last year will effectively destroy the commercial fishing and aquaculture industry of our southern coastline overnight. The loss of tourism dollars could arguably exceed even that.

This is most definitely not in Australia’s best interest, and will represent yet another blight on our already poor environmental record (see http://wp.me/phhT4-1cf and http://wp.me/phhT4-Zt). I urge you to reconsider your permission and revoke the licence to drill in our waters. It is a mistake you and your government will regret for decades, and will make the recent flooding disaster in Queensland appear mild in comparison.

Professor Corey J. A. Bradshaw

I certainly wasn’t expecting the Minister to say suddenly “Oh my. You are right, Prof. Bradshaw. It is a bad decision. I’ll revoke that permission forthwith”, but I was expecting a little bit more than the jumbled form letter I received in reply:

Thank you for writing to express your concern with the decision of the Commonwealth-South Australian Offshore Petroleum Joint Authority (the Joint Authority) to grant four petroleum exploration permits in the Great Australian Bight to BP Exploration (Alpha) Ltd.

In reaching its decision, the Joint Authority took account of the following general considerations:

  • that offshore petroleum exploration permits do not, of themselves, authorise exploration activities that may have any adverse impact on the environment. Rather they are best seen as granting the holder the exclusive right in the area for which the permit is granted, to apply for permission to undertake exploration activities that are judged by environmental and other regulators, to comply with the law. In relation to environmental matters those laws include the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 and regulations made under those acts;
  • that the grant of these permits is the first step in a lengthy exploration process with approval being sought for the drilling of any exploratory wells not taking place until at least 2013-14, so allowing significant time for both BP and regulators to fully understand and apply the lessons leaned from both the 2009 Montara and 2010 Deepwater Horizon incidents; and
  • that the petroleum industry is vital to Australia’s ongoing energy security. In 2008-09 Australia had a $16 billion trade deficit in crude oil, refined products and LPG and this is expected to rise, possibly as high as $30 billion by 2015. The discovery of new petroleum reserves has the potential to reduce Australian energy import dependence and increase supply certainty for the domestic energy market.

More particularly the Joint authority took account of the sensitive environmental, agricultural and cultural elements underpinning the rural economy in the Bight region, and placed additional conditions on these permits, emphasising the need for oil field best practice behaviour by the operator; BP has accepted these conditions, which form part of the permit titles. The Joint Authority can cancel a title in the event that any title conditions are not met.

These conditions include a requirement to ensure that all exploration well design and associated well casing and cement design is undertaken by an appropriately qualified and experienced engineer; establishing an approved well design and integrity monitoring plan; and providing independent certification of each Blowout Preventer (BOP) prior to installation in Australian waters.

Prior to the commencement of any drilling, BP must have approved hydrocarbon spill mitigation technologies and risk mitigation processes deployed; and on completion of each well, and prior to any other exploration activity in the Permit, BP must demonstrate to the Joint Authority, the effectiveness of the cement job behind the well casing utilising Cement Bond Logging technology.

These commitments are in addition to the requirement for BP to adhere to Australia’s stringent offshore petroleum regulatory regime, which places the onus on the operator to demonstrate to regulators that all exploration for, and extraction of, petroleum resources are undertaken in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

In addition, BP has provided the Australian Government with an undertaking to fully integrate the lessons learnt from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico into its systems and processes – an undertaking the Australian Government will hold them to.

Of course BP will be subject to all existing environmental standards and reporting requirements set out in legislation and associated regulations, including:

  • taking all action to prevent the escape of any fluids related to drilling activities; including holding an approved Well Operations Management Plan and Oil Spill Contingency Plan;
  • holding appropriate levels of insurance prior to the commencement of operations, in case any incident occurs that requires remediation; and
  • ensuring that all work is carried out in a ‘workman like manner and in accordance with good oilfield practice.’

I thank you for bringing your concerns to the attention of the Australian Government and trust the above information will be of assistance.

Yours sincerely
Federal Member for Batman
Minister for Resources & Energy
Minister for Tourism

In other words, the Minister is saying:

  1. Australia is skint and needs more money from dodgy oil development
  2. BP is really sorry and promise not to be bad any more
  3. BP is a really responsible company now and has magically fixed all safety concerns

Do you trust them? I don’t (and this is why I do not buy BP products any more). I encourage you to write your disgust with the decision to the Minister by emailing him directly.

CJA Bradshaw





5 responses

27 02 2011
Robert Lawrence

Frankly I don’t see BP as the issue. Drilling for hydrocarbons is a team effort involving many companies and none would want a repeat. Nevertheless, the risks involved with searching in ever increasing depths appear to be unacceptable.

What I find highly disturbing in the minister’s reply is the the panic response to projections of growth in energy demands. Increasing hydrocarbon exploration and production is not the answer. We need to reduce population growth and fast-track the adoption of feasible alternatives to fossil fuels. In particular, we need to fast-track adoption of integrated fast breeder nuclear reactors.

Otherwise we just need to accept the risk of the occasional deep sea oil disaster and the consequences of climate change such as extremes of droughts, floods, cyclones, rising sea levels and displacement of millions of people. I can’t see how these risks could be acceptable and I don’t understand the mainstream politicians who seem to think they are.


25 02 2011
Tom Keen

Have you ever had anything but a jumbled, nonsense reply after writing to a politician? I haven’t (though I’m not a highly regarded scientist either).

Shall write to Minister Ferguson anyway – this is outrageous, really.


25 02 2011

Not really ;-). But yes, the more people complaining, the better.


24 02 2011
Megan Evans

Look no further than the emerging gas industry as an indication that fossil fuel extraction & profit are priorities above all – coming to a food bowl near you http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2011/s3141787.htm


24 02 2011
Euan Ritchie

I had no idea, this is outrageously stupid. Certain lobby groups are our problem in Aus, and have been for a long time, as they have very effectively sabotaged the political process and debate for a long time. See ‘Scorcher’ for more.


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