Regulatory body approves seismic for Great Australian Bight

Australia’s regulatory agency for offshore oil drilling has approved an application for seismic surveys in the Great Australian Bight under strict conditions.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) released its report on January 14 approving PGS Australia’s application for seismic surveys between September 1 and November 30 this year.

The survey area is located 51 kilometres from Cape Carnot on the southern tip of Eyre Peninsula, and 80km south-southwest of Port Lincoln, across an area of 30,100 square kilometres.

In its report NOPSEMA said it accepted the environment plan subject to conditions to provide transparency and certainty to stakeholders that the survey would limit environmental impacts.

This includes measures to ensure the protection of pygmy blue whales, southern right whales and southern bluefin tuna.

Measures for tuna include implementing a process to detect migration during the survey period within 30km of the operational area.

In the event tuna are detected within 30km their behaviour will be monitored and within 20km the survey will cease for the remainder of the period.

Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association chief executive officer Brian Jeffries said NOPSEMA’s decision was balanced with some of the strictest conditions he had seen.

“With those conditions I very much doubt the surveys could even go ahead,” he said.

Mr Jeffries said the association did feel the survey area was too big at this stage.

West Coast Professional Fishers Association president Jeff Schmucker said there had been no concern shown by members.

“I don’t think it will affect any of our members in the association and there have been no concerns expressed by any members,” he said.

“My personal opinion is the research undertaken needs to be trusted by the broader community.”

The Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen criticised the approval of seismic testing, which he said has led to hearing loss in whales.

“Seismic testing can have a massive impact on whales and other marine life, with the deafening noise of sonic cannons being able to penetrate hundreds of kilometres into the seabed in thousands of metres of water and carrying on for months on end,” Mr Owen said.

“The Great Australian Bight’s pristine waters are a haven for 36 species of whales and dolphins, including the world’s most important nursery for the endangered southern right whale as well as many humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales.

“It’s also Australia’s most important sea lion nursery and supports seals, orcas, giant cuttlefish and some of Australia’s most important fisheries.”

Mr Owen said oil and gas exploration in the “rough [and] pristine” waters of the Bight would have “unacceptable impacts on this special marine environment”.

Full details of NOPSEMA’s approval is available online here.