Media Release Offshore Oil and Gas

30,000 submissions over seismic blasting between Otway coast & NW Tasmania

August 29, 2023
  • Blasting area contains “Biologically Important Areas” for endangered blue whale and southern right whale
  • Seismic blasting deafens whales, kills plankton and harms marine life
  • Proponents have failed to consult meaningfully with affected stakeholders as required by regulator NOPSEMA’s Environmental Regulations
  • Partner SLB-Schlumberger was being investigated for breaching conditions in previous seismic blasting program nearby, possibly in relation to whales

More than 30,000 people have made submissions over a proposal to seismic blast in important endangered whale habitat between Victoria’s Otway coast and north-west Tasmania. Australia’s offshore oil and gas regulator, NOPSEMA, confirmed today it had received 30,785 submissions over the proposal, with the vast majority opposing it including 20,000 submissions through the the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

Energy data company TGS – partnered with SLB (formerly Schlumberger) – recently lodged plans with NOPSEMA to seismic blast over a record 55,000 square kilometres between Victoria’s Otway coast and north-west Tasmania from October 2023 to September 2027 for a maximum of 400 days. Exploration companies use seismic blasting to locate oil and gas deposits deep beneath the ocean floor, with sonic cannons firing loud explosions underwater every 10-15 seconds, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for months on end.

Seismic blasting is deadly for marine life and can impact all levels of the food chain, from its very foundations, killing zooplankton more than a kilometre away, to deafening whales and driving them away from their feeding and breeding grounds. Seismic blasting damages other marine life, too, including killing scallops and impacting the immune systems of lobsters.

TGS’s Environmental Plan (EP) shows the proposed blasting zone contains designated “Biologically Important Areas” (BIAs) for both the endangered blue whale and southern right whale. Furthermore, the entire operational area has also been nominated as BIA for the blue whale, and the southern right whale’s draft recovery plan includes revised BIAs.

AMCS Oil and Gas Campaign Manager Louise Morris said: “It’s totally unacceptable that gas exploration companies can seismic blast in a whale nursery and superhighway when seismic blasting can deafen whales and kill their primary food source, zooplankton. This area is one of the most important regions for the endangered blue whale and southern right whale. 

“The mitigation measures the proponents suggest to avoid impacts on whales are limited. Their Environmental Plan (EP) notes Marine Fauna Observers standing on seismic ships can only see whales in daylight and relatively calm weather conditions, while whales can stay underwater for extended periods of time. Sperm whales, which the EP notes occur in the area, can dive for up to an hour. Furthermore, the EP even notes that Passive Acoustic Monitoring listening devices are not ‘particularly reliable’ for monitoring baleen whales, including the endangered blue whale and southern right whale.  

“The huge number of submissions opposing this destructive proposal sends a clear message that Australians overwhelmingly reject seismic blasting in our oceans.”

The EP notes there are 34 threatened or endangered species in the operational area, and there is always a resident population of whales in the proposed blasting zone, as well as whales passing through on their migration routes. 

  • Endangered blue whales are found in the seismic blasting zone throughout most of the year, with peak feeding season from January to June.
  • Endangered southern right whale breeding and calving season in the area runs from April to October. 
  • Sei and minke whales feed in the blasting zone from November to May, while pygmy right whales feed in the area from September to February.
  • Sperm whales have been recorded in the deep water areas of the blasting zone off the west coast of Tasmania, with the greatest number of sightings occurring in October and November.

TGS and SLB-Schlumberger previously lodged plans to seismic blast over 77,000 square kilometres in August 2022, but withdrew the application after a heavy public backlash. Schlumberger changed its name to SLB in November 2022 and has now become a silent partner in this latest proposal by removing its name from the application.

SLB-Schlumberger was being investigated by NOPSEMA for possibly breaching conditions on a previous seismic blasting program nearby in 2020. NOPSEMA has not released details of the investigation, although a freedom-of-information search indicates the investigation is likely related to blue whales. 

Ms Morris said: “It’s difficult to have faith in this process when the silent partner was being investigated for breaches of a previous blasting permit likely in relation to the endangered blue whale, which is again threatened by this latest proposal.

“TGS and Schlumberger-SLB have failed to meaningfully consult with relevant stakeholders as required by NOPSEMA’s Environment Regulations. They did not provide a draft Environment Plan for identified ‘relevant persons’, as part of consultation, resulting in presentations of vague plans with no details of mitigation measures for impacted threatened species, industries or communities. 

“This EP needs to be refused outright as the impacts to our ocean environment and marine life have not been adequately considered, and measures to mitigate impacts have not been detailed.”