The Great Australian Plight


The decision on BP’s application to drill in the Great Australian Bight has been delayed, as new data shows that a spill in the region could have wide-spreading consequences across Australia.

An oil spill within the Bight is predicted to spread beyond South Australia, effecting as far as NSW in the worst case scenario. 

Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, passed the inquiry into BP’s application last Thursday, after spending a week in the South Australian region.

“The concerns of the community that I heard were serious and widespread. The people and organisations I spoke to charged me with the job to come back here to Canberra and make sure people know just what is at risk if BP get the opportunity to drill for oil in what has already been earmarked, agreed and legislated to be a marine park, a protected area.”

The greens senator also noted that an approval on BP’s application will open pathways for other mining companies to commence further operations within the Bight.

“There will be a long line of oil-drilling companies that want to get into that marine park and drill for profit, putting at risk the local fishing industries, putting at risk the protected marine life and indeed putting at risk the very important tourism industry which is a key aspect of South Australia’s economy.” 

The Great Australian Bight Leasing Zones. Source: The Wilderness Society.

Mayor of Kangaroo Island, Peter Clements, has been in contact with BP since 2011, with the council at the forefront of those opposed.

If a spill was to occur within the area Kangaroo Island would have an almost certain chance of being directly impacted, causing major concerns amongst residents. 

“When the spill happened in the Gulf of Mexico it was only one and a half thousand metres deep. The Blight is known to be even rougher then the Gulf and BP is proposing to drill even deeper. BP is taking risks at Australian taxpayers expense, and there is no amount of risk management which can make BP’s plan seem reasonable.”

BP has recently made public part of the spill modelling paper with calls for the company to release the entire report.

Source: BP Oil Spill Modelling Summary Paper

The South Australian government recently released a report in August projecting the benefits of the operation. The report covers the history of off-shore drilling within the area and highlighting the financial benefits of granting the application.

Tom Koutsantonis, the Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy, states in the report, “Australia is no stranger to offshore oil and gas production. Energy companies have been operating in Bass Strait and Northwest Shelf for many years. By ensuring exploration can be safely conducted in the waters off our State we can set out on a pathway to discovery that can unlock the full potential of our energy resources.”

Whilst the project has the potential to provide economic benefits for the region an accident could have devastating effects on other industries.

This has prompted environmental groups to campaign heavily against the proposal, focusing on BP’s past operations and the importance of protecting the Great Australian Bight.

South Australian director of the Wilderness Society, Peter Owen, has been campaigning against the proposal since it became public and is seriously concerned about the region if BP was permitted to drill within the area.

“The impact of an oil spill would be truly devastating for marine life, birds, coastlines, fisheries, coastal communities and possibly anywhere along the southern Australian coast,” Mr Owen said.

BP is responsible for the biggest oil spill in history during 2010, with 800 million litres of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

“BP’s latest spill modelling summary also finally admits to the unacceptable impact that a spill in the Bight could have on critically important ecological systems and marine species that Australia has clear international obligations to protect.”

BP’s proposal to drill within the Great Australian Blight has been delayed until the 29th of September.

Sharn Kennedy

Griffith University - Journalist

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