Years of negotiating with fossil fuel companies seeking to extract oil or gas from the Otway Basin is wearing thin with professional Surf Coast fisherman Markus Nolle.
The latest battle before the head of the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-Operative is a plan to seismically blast the ocean and floor between Victoria, Tasmania and up to the South Australian border for around 200 days.
The proposal from multinational TGS is to create a 3D map of the Otway Basin subsurface so potential gas reserves can be located, drilled and sold.
It’s lodged an Environment Plan for the project with the federal offshore regulator NOPSEMA, and is consulting with people and communities likely to be impacted by the project, such as Mr Nolle and his fellow fishers.
“Not only does this particular plan make me feel sick, it’s just another cut in the thousand cuts of destroying any hope we have with this whole regime,” Mr Nolle said.
“We’ve been engaging with various exploration companies over many, many, many years and we engage in good faith originally because we thought that was what the regulatory regime was there for, to oversee a fair process, but it isn’t.
“The whole process is just greenwashing, as far as environmental plans go.”
He says approval for the project is a foregone conclusion, despite opposition from communities like his, local governments and what he says is proof of its damaging impact on marine life.
“The pre-determined outcome is that all of these explorations will go ahead and everything else is just fiddling round the edges and window dressing and wasting time while the clock ticks down and the rubber stamp will of course finally be given,” he said.
“It is a totally disingenuous process and a flawed regime, as has been admitted by the regulators who shrug their shoulders and say there’s nothing we can do about it.”
TGS’s 1400-page Environment Plan mentions whales over 2000 times, but concludes that “the residual risk to whale physiology” from around 200 days of 256 decibel blasting is “minor” or “unlikely.” Similar findings are made about potential impacts on other marine life.
“We’ve got proof that is does,” Mr Nolle said.
“For years the oil and gas industry claimed that the whole process was a benign activity. Scallop trawlers, the dredgers, said for years….if they went back a few months after there’d been a seismic survey, everything they brought up was dead, everything.
“That was denied for many, many years, decades, but now we have scientific proof that yes, seismic blasting does in fact permanently damage animals like scallops. It might not kill them on day one, but within a few months they’ll all be dead.”
Image: Chair of the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-Op Markus Nolle (Apollo Bay Seafood Festival).