Ocean lovers are sounding the alarm about a multinational plan to spend hundreds of days blasting the Otway Basin in the search for new gas reserves.
Oil and gas services company TGS have lodged an Environment Plan (EP) with Australia’s offshore energy regulator NOPSEMA to conduct a 3D marine seismic survey over a 5.5 million hectare area of Commonwealth waters offshore from Victoria, Tasmania, and up to the South Australian border.
The Surfrider Foundation variously refers to the proposal as “insane”, “laughable” and a “horrific practice”, for its likely impact on marine life.
“It’s one of the biggest seismic blasting projects ever conducted in Australia’s history, and we’re here to stop it,” marine scientist Annie Ford said.
She’s working with the Surfrider Foundation to sound the alarm about the proposal, as well the end goal of the project which is to open up a vast new area of fossil fuel reserves to extraction.
“The blasts that are released every ten seconds are absolutely deafening, they’re 256 decibels. For context, that’s one of the loudest man made sounds on the planet,” she said.
Other comparisons include a NASA rocket launch (204 db), and the deck of an aircraft carrier (140 db).
It is more than twice as loud as the infamous Deep Purple concert atLondon’s Rainbow Theatre in 1972, where the sound level reached 117 db and left three members of the audence unconscious.
The survey is planned to take over 200 days and involves dragging a boom line of seismic devices that blast the ocean and floor to create a 3D map of its subsurface in order to determine potential gas reserves.
“These companies argue that there is no evidence to suggest that there’s impacts and that’s because there’s hardly any research conducted,” Ms Ford said.
The three coastal councils between Port Fairy and Torquay all formally oppose the plan, the Moyne Shire the latest to join the Surf Coast and Colac Otway Shires.
TGS’s 1400 page EP opened for public comment on July 12 and closes on August 11. In it the word whale appears 2125 times, perhaps not unexpected given the proposed survey area falls within protected waters of the Australian Whale Sanctuary, where it is an offence to kill, injure or interfere with a cetacean (marine mammal), such as whales or dolphins.
In assessing potential impacts of its blasting on species of whale like Blue or Southern Rights, language such as limited, moderate or low is repeatedly used to describe the impacts of seismic blasting on marine and bird life.
Annie Ford has spent time working on seismic survey vessels in their search for oil and gas, and says there are serious flaws with the proposal and industry more widely.
“My job was to look out for marine fauna, so whales or whale sharks, and then if they were in close proximity to the blasts we would shut down operations, but obviously you can only see what’s on the surface, not what’s deep beneath.”
“It will absolutely cause impacts to these threatened and protected species like the Southern right whale, the Blue whale, our really valuable commercial fisheries.
“There is no way that the current system is designed to reduce impacts, not in any effective means.
“The techniques to reduce impacts are certainly geared for the oil and gas companies that want to keep looking for oil and gas.”
There’s consternation too at the expectation that communities can meaningfully respond to the hugely technical 1400 page environment plan within a month.
“They want to sweep this under the rug, really quickly get it through without an opportunity for opposition,” Ms Ford claimed.
“It is designed for you not to understand the language.”
TGS is required to consult with communities likely to be impacted by the survey, but Surfrider claims this hasn’t been happening.
“They are not attending in person events…they are getting through this without listening to real concerns from fishermen, from ocean lovers, from surfers, from people that live and breath our coastlines and will be at the frontline of any damage they create.”
To view or comment on the application click here.
Images: The Surfrider Foundation’s Annie Ford (supplied) and the proposed survey area for the Seismic blasting (SLR).