Toni is currently studying a Masters of Advanced Journalism at UTS. After spending the last ten years travelling the world as a performer Toni now works in communications for a not for profit arts organisation. She has a passion for investigative journalism and telling womens stories.
The oil exploration company planning to start drilling in the Great Australian Bight next year, has until the end of the month to satisfy concerns about "information gaps" in its environmental plan.
Norwegian energy company Equinor, formally known as Statoil, holds two exploration permits in the Bight.
The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) has asked Equinor for more information about its Stromlo-1 exploration well.
NOPSEMA is the independent body responsible for offshore petroleum activities in Commonwealth waters, and for the safety of workers and marine life.
In a statement, Equinor said the request for more information was "part of the normal regulatory process."
Equinor’s recently submitted environmental plan states that the use of chemical dispersion is the principal method in its oil spill response plan.
On page 342 of the 1500-page report, the company acknowledges that the use of chemical dispersants will increase the risk of toxicity to marine plants and animals.
A recent study found that chemically dispersed oil has more negative effects on the marine environment than undispersed oil.
The study, conducted at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), named chemicals Corexit 9527 and Ardrox 6120 as the most toxic. Equinor’s oil pollution emergency plan names large quantities of both.
The company's Australian manager Jone Stangeland, said that any decision to use chemical dispersants depends on the size of an oil spill.
“In order to develop a robust response plan, we must consider and plan for the use of dispersants to be prepared for any situation” Mr Stangeland said.
He noted that the use of chemical dispersants is categorised as a "medium risk" activity but has been "proven to be highly effective".
“It reduces oil volumes on the water’s surface and the potential for oil to reach the shore."
But the amount of oil below the surface is not reduced.
Mr Stangeland acknowledges that the use of chemical dispersants comes with "certain tradeoffs" and "may increase the effect on some fish species and the seafloor environment".
Opposition to Equinor’s project comes from the dual standpoint of the potential environmental and economic consequences in the case of an oil spill. It's led to protests around the country, including in Sydney.
The marine area extending from Western Australia to Victoria generates $10bn annually from fishing and tourism industries, while the Bight is an integral part of South Australia’s economy.
According to the CSIRO study The Great Southern Reef, the South Australian marine environment is a "significant natural asset" for Australia, and the world.
Its kelp forests are described as "globally unique" and a "remarkable example of biodiversity". In 2012, they were the first marine community to be listed as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Fishing and aquaculture are two of the state's biggest industries. Fishing generates 25 per cent of Australia’s seafood, totalling an annual gross income of $400-500 million.
Tuna accounts for 63 per cent of the commercial fishing in the Bight.
According to Kirsten Rough, Research Manager for the Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association, tuna are very sensitive to oil exposure.
“Knowing that there is not an oil development area that we know of that has not had a spill, it is reasonable to assume that development of an oil industry in the Bight poses a very real risk to this global roaming species," she said.
Last year, it was revealed that over 5100 jobs in Port Lincoln alone would be at risk if there were to be oil or gas leaks in the Bight. That number is much higher than the potential number of jobs created by Equinor’s drilling.
Port Lincoln subsequently joined a group of 15 local councils openly opposing Equinor’s plan.
The catastrophic disaster of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 has only fuelled concerns about the risk of offshore drilling.
Equinor made its draft Environment Plan publicly available earlier this year. Since then, its received over 31 thousand submissions and strong opposition from coastal communities Australia-wide.
In her response to requests for information about NOPSEMA's concerns, Communications Advisor Sarah Miller advised that no comment could be made while the assessment of Equinor's environmental plan is still underway.
- Toni Ambrogetti