Australia does not have much petrol – without recharge, storage would last only 2-3 weeks.
If there was an interruption to imports, industry and consumers would be in serious strife, with rationing likely within a week.
That is why the Commonwealth Parliament has this week passed amendments to the Liquid Fuel Emergency Act 1984 – changes aimed at facilitating a 90-day supply buffer.
The bigger question is, ‘should we be doing more than this?’
We have an abundance of oil resource in the Great Australian Bight – a long way offshore. Should we not be developing this resource, particularly if it delivers greeter energy security?
The energy security issue is central to the Liquid Fuel Emergency Act.
It is a topic raised by South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon in 2012.
“Right now Australia is particularly vulnerable to any disruption in fuel supplied (from) overseas,” Senator Xenophon said at the time.
“The consequences of even a relatively small hiccup of international oil imports to Australia could be disastrous. Furthermore, it is basic economics that a decent stockpile can cushion massive price spikes in the event of an emergency.”
Indeed! Greater supply does equal protection against price spikes and greater security of operations for business, industry and consumers. This is a reality we have often discussed in the context of natural gas supplies and price.
So, if we are so dependent on imports, why not develop the resources we ourselves own? That is a question more difficult to answer, apparently, as it runs into the NIMBY (not in my backyard) response.
We are happy to have fuel to drive our cars, buses, trucks and ships, but there are many who are less happy to actually see the drilling occurring in their own patch – even when that patch is hundreds of kilometres offshore.
Sea Shepherd is a case in point. It happily runs its gas-guzzling military-looking vessels (worth hundreds of millions of dollars) around the globe. Most people support its anti-whaling activities in international waters.
But does Sea Shepherd have the right to impose itself in territorial waters and decide for all Australians whether or not a resource such as that in the Great Australian Bight ought to be developed?
Sea Shepherd’s actions say it is not really much interested in testing community sentiment – and certainly not Australia’s Government-legislated processes about resource development assessment. The self-appointed guardians of the high seas have made up their own mind, and the answer is a menacing “NO” to development of the Bight resources (many of which are so far offshore they are actually in the Southern Ocean, a long long way from the whale migration path).
It is this same NIMBYism that lead to a Senate inquiry into possible development of the Bight, promoted by the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Party. Yes, having declared the need for more fuel, Senator Xenophon was nonetheless happy to support the Bight inquiry, which was established in an attempt by the Greens to shut down possible exploration.
However, the committee rejected the ‘ban it’ submissions of the Greens and activists (including Sea Shepherd and the Wilderness Society), voting to follow the assessment course laid out in Commonwealth legislation and administered by the regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).
In other words, development could proceed, so long as any proposal passed the rigorous NOPSEMA assessment and observed the very tight regulations which have always applied in Australia and helped ensure there has never been a major environmental incident from oil drilling in our waters.
And just repeating that last point: There has never been a major ecological incident from drilling in Australian waters – in Bass Strait, western Victoria, the North-West Shelf or north-west of Darwin.
That represents a history of 50+ years of safe and productive oil and gas production.
SA Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who chaired the Parliamentary committee inquiry, was incensed; but her outburst of indignation did not impress other committee members.
SA Labor Senator Alex Gallacher said Senator Hanson-Young had adopted a closed mind from the start of the inquiry.
“Unfortunately in this instance Senator Hanson-Young has had a no-drill, no-explore, my way or the highway attitude and that has come back to reflect badly on her performance as (committee) chair,” he said.
We outlined some of the important facts in consideration of development of the Bight after the committee decision.
And also 18 months earlier, when an exploration proposal was first mooted.
Activists, including Sea Shepherd and the Wilderness Society, choose to ignore these facts, including that oil prospects are a very long way offshore.
Recently BP decided not to pursue the exploration program it was considering, which was positioned 400 kilometres from shore – well into the Southern Ocean according to some oceanographers.
This distance may have been a factor, as well as the rough seas encountered so far south.
But there is also the possibility that the images like those above and below may have been a factor. As Sea Shepherd patrolled the coast, close to shore in Adelaide, what was it signalling? That it will do to Australian maritime craft in Australian waters what it does to Japanese whaling ships in international seas?
Sea Shepherd has not yet answered that question.