Should oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight keep surfers up at night? Or no?
A week or so ago, a protest campaign began against a proposed exploratory oil well in the Great Australian Bight, kicked into gear by the (wonderful) journalist Sean Doherty.
“Pretty much the whole surfable Australian coast would be covered in oil. It would be Australia’s own Deepwater Horizon,” wrote Sean in the first of a series of Instagram posts, which snowballed into multiple pro surfer feeds.
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Okay, it’s on. These Norwegian scumbags @equinor have officially announced their intentions to drill in the Great Australian Bight later this year. They’ll be 300km off the coast and drilling 5km down and it’s sketchy beyond belief. This is a map of their own spill modeling. Pretty much the whole surfable Australian coast would be covered in oil. It would be Australia’s own Deepwater Horizon. We’ve got 30 days to stop this and if you surf you need to lend your voice. We need to bury these kooks in protest. There’s a formal submission before NOPSEMA who are making the call on it… public comment link in bio, takes five minutes, let em know how you feel. Equinor are two-thirds state owned by the Norwegian government, so you need to get your Norwegian friends to make some noise at home. Equinor are particularly sensitive to criticism at home as they paint themselves as a clean energy company in Norway, but hide their dirty work half a world away in Australia. If you want some short term gratification send @equinor a message. They’re getting lit up over there at the moment. I apologize in advance for the next 28 days but I’ll be going hard to stop this. #fightforthebight
The lease where Equinor plans to drill for oil and gas is 327 k’s off Ceduna, South Australia, in about 2.5 kilometres of abyssal plain ocean. To get to any likely reserves, Equinor will have to then drill through roughly three kilometres of seabed rock. This is on par with the deepest sea-oil drilling in the world – in one of the most windblown, swell-hammered places you can imagine.
Reckon something could go wrong with this scenario?
Equinor clearly does.
Earlier today, a rebuttal appeared in an obscure conservative website by another surfer, Fred Pawle.
Let’s pick our free-of-charge 400 words.
It’s an illusion. It is based on Equinor’s map outlining all the areas that could be affected by any one of 100 scenarios…
…The confusion began when Greenpeace tweeted the map, saying that a spill “could hit anywhere from South Australian to New South Wales”. Journalist Nick Carroll mistook this, instead saying on a surf website that Equinor “clearly” believes “something could go wrong”, and that “a worst-case spill would put oil on every surfable coast of Australia south of 30 degrees S.” In other words, the well has the potential to create a spill roughly 10 times the size of the spill from Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the biggest accident in history.
An open letter from a group of surf celebrities, including Mick Fanning and Taj Burrow, to Equinor says an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight would be “catastrophic” and the “southern coastline of Australia would never be the same”. The chief slogans for the campaign are “Fight for the Bight” and “Big oil don’t surf”.
But big oil does surf. It produces the byproducts from which surfboards and wetsuits are made. And of course it provides the fuel for the planes that take surfers, professional and hobbyist, to the world’s idyllic surf destinations. It even produced the fuel for the jetskis Burrow and Fanning were using to catch waves during the Cyclone Oma swell on the Gold Coast last week.
As pro surfers for decades, Burrow and Fanning have flown more times around the world than almost all other people in history except pilots. By joining this campaign, they are not telling oil miners to stop exploring for oil, which they rely on daily, just not to do it near a coastline where a misinformed scare campaign has infuriated some of their fans.
The rationale for the protest is that the Great Australian Bight is too deep and wild for oil exploration. But Equinor is using equipment that is industry standard, and includes a 100-tonne capping stack, a new precaution that became mandatory after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Equinor has oil wells in similar conditions to the Great Australian Bight off Norway and Canada.
The protesters also ignore the 14 exploratory wells that have been drilled in the Great Australian Bight since 1972, and the hundreds that have extracted oil from the nearby Bass Strait, which is in shallower water but still subject to similar ocean conditions, since 1965.
There are some signs that the famous surfers and journalists objecting to the project have not only misread the project’s risks but also some of their market. All the above surf websites have received comments from surfers pointing out the hypocrisy of people who use oil-based products objecting to oil mining, and questioning the protesters’ exaggerated fears of a spill. Then again, they are also not short of supportive comments agreeing with the risk of a “catastrophe”.