The Great Australian Bight lives up to its name – endless cliffs towering over a vast unspoiled ocean full of wild and wonderful marine life, including one of the largest populations of the endangered southern right whale. But BP wants to drill for oil and gas in these waters – just like they did in the Gulf of Mexico.
Why it's so important
The Great Australian Bight is a place of unparalleled wilderness and natural beauty on the coastline of South and Western Australia. Its iconic curve has the longest line of sea cliffs in the world, stretching hundreds of kilometres and reaching up to 60 metres high. Yet it is what lives in the deep waters below that is truly astounding.
The Bight is home to an amazing array of marine life, including many threatened and endangered species: great white sharks, humpback, blue and southern right whales, southern bluefin tuna, Australian sea lions, white-bellied sea eagle and albatross. These waters are an important marine nursery for the Australian sea lion colonies to raise pups and southern right whales to nurture their calves.
The Head of the Bight in South Australia is best known for one of the largest breeding population of endangered southern right whales. These magnificent creatures make the yearly migration from the waters of Antarctica to rest, breed and give birth – providing a popular opportunity for some close-up whale watching. Hunted almost to extinction in the 1800s but now protected in Australia, the population is still recovering. Over 200 were observed along this stretch of coastline in 2014, mostly mothers and calves.
More than 85 per cent of the species in the shallows of the Bight can be found nowhere else in the world. What lies beneath, the creatures of the deep, are even more mysterious. The ocean floor also contains a unique but largely unexplored community of plants and animals.
At least 5 oil companies have set their sights on drilling for oil and gas in the deep, rough waters of the Great Australian Bight.
This unique and pristine marine environment is under threat, with plans to turn the Great Australian Bight into an oil field - and with it the potential for a catastrophic oil spill.
BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was the worst in history. 11 workers lost their lives. Oil poured into the sea for 87 days, releasing approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil. This was in one of the world’s most highly developed oil fields, with all of the emergency infrastructure right at their doorstep. Marine life, fisheries, tourism and local communities were devastated. The costs continue to emerge. Not that this was a one-off event, there have been hundreds of other pipeline blowouts and explosions all over the world for decades.
Now, big oil companies want to bring these risks to the Great Australian Bight. Based on the limited information that has been released so far, an oil-well blowout here could be much worse than the Gulf of Mexico. In part of their original documents, BP publicly admitted that it could take in the order of 150 days to “...effectively kill the well and allow for it to be permanently closed down”(from BP’s BP GAB Exploration Drilling Program Stromlo-1 and Whinham-1 Oil Spill Response Planning Strategic Overview , 9 September 2016, which has since been removed from their website.) Oil could flow for months into the Great Australian Bight, polluting the waters of southern Australia.
The oil industry have claimed that drilling has already been done in the Bight Basin over the years, but none of the few attempts that have taken place have been successful or have occurred in the depths they are now proposing. The most recent attempt was by Woodside Petroleum, but due to extreme weather conditions which caused the drill bit to snap, the project was abandoned. This was at around half of the depth that BP were proposing to drill, which puts in question the safety of all deep-sea drilling operations in the Bight.
Based on limited information BP was forced to release, an oil-well blowout here could be much worse than the Gulf of Mexico. The Great Australian Bight oil drilling could be deeper, will be in rougher seas, and in more remote and inaccessible areas. BP itself has admitted a spill could gush for an unimaginable 158 days, polluting the waters from Kangaroo Island to the Western Australian border. Industry data shows 80-90% of offshore oil blowouts (including in the Gulf of Mexico disaster) happen in the exploration phase - right at the beginning. These risks to Australia’s waters will start in the near future - if we do not stop them.
In addition to the oil spill risks, turning the Bight into a mining industrial area will have massive impacts on this peaceful marine environment. The loud and disruptive underwater blasts of seismic exploration and then drilling into the sea floor will be devastating. Increased shipping would increase animal strike, pollution, biosecurity hazards, and underwater noise.
All this just so big petroleum companies can make a profit, while digging up more fossil fuels to create even worse climate change.
BP pulled out in late 2016, but there are still at least 5 other companies wanting to drill including Chevron, Santos and Bight Petroleum.
Their plans for the Bight are all risk and no gain for Australia.
What we're doing about it
Australians are proud of our unique marine life, and so is The Wilderness Society. We also love our coastal lifestyle, from holidays at the beach to the diving, fishing and tourism industries that thrive in our pristine oceans.
Together we can send a clear message that we will not accept the risk that is Big Oil in the Great Australian Bight.
We're a founding member of the Great Australian Bight Alliance, working with thousands of other people and organisations to help promote the uniqueness and value of the Bight and our marine environment.
We are calling on the government to ban oil and gas development in the Bight now and into the future.
Our vision for the Great Australian Bight is for a protected marine environment, where marine life is safe and healthy. Our unspoiled waters must be valued and celebrated. Australians want oil-free seas. We do not want the risks of catastrophic oil spills along our coastline. That is why The Wilderness Society is working to halt new large fossil fuel projects to protect precious underwater wilderness areas and avoid dangerous climate change. Together, we can save the Bight from these risks.
What you can do
You can help us to keep Big Oil out of the Bight, and ensure oil-free seas.
1) Contact the South Australian Campaign Centre to find out more about the campaign and how you can help.
2) Call or write to the Federal Environment & Energy Minister the Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP and tell him that we can not risk Big Oil in the Bight. Phone: (02) 6277 7070 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
3) Meet with your local council and ask them to put forward a motion to oppose drilling for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight.
4) Become a campaign champion - volunteer.
5) Like the Facebook Page: The Wilderness Society South Australia to keep up to date with local campaign actions and events.
6) Sign up for updates.