Opinion: time for some facts on the Great Australian Bight

January 22nd, 2016

Activists have been quick to use the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as an example of why offshore resource development should be stopped and why they will do their utmost to stop any approved exploration activity off the South Australian coast.

“We don’t want what happened in the Gulf of Mexico to happen in the Great Australian Bight,” was the catch cry heard on Adelaide radio this week.

“We don’t need any more fossil fuel because we have renewable energy.”

Most people agree, the world will be better off, as a whole, the more we use renewable energy.

However, the ‘better off’ case is not so clear for developing countries suffering from energy poverty.  Nor is it clear that people in developed countries are willing to suffer the drop in living standards which would be necessary to adopt a quick shift to 100% renewable energy.

Activists hope drawing comparisons between the Gulf of Mexico and the Bight, along with raising renewable energy as the  will be enough to win an argument – but it’s worth looking at some facts:

  • South Australia currently has the country’s most supportive renewable energy policies – and the highest energy costs for consumers and businesses.
  • Australia has had offshore oil rigs operating on the east, west and north coasts since the 1960s and there has not been a single serious incident.
  • The Gulf of Mexico spill was difficult to plug because it was extremely deep – at 5600m. Planned drilling off SA is at depth of 1000-1500m.
  • The Gulf spill was much closer to land – at 60km. Planned drilling off SA is 500km offshore
  • The planned well sites are hundreds of kilometres from whale migration paths and calving areas which are close to shore.
  • No fewer than three regulatory and safety agencies will have a strong stake in ensuring any drilling meets the most stringent safety tests and contingency plans for quickly dealing with any accident before any serious ecological damage can occur.
  • Proposed drilling sites are in what the Australian Oceanographic Society describes as the Southern Ocean (not the Great Australian Bight). Conditions in the Southern Ocean favour more rapid dispersal of any spill, should one occur.




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