Media Release Offshore Oil and Gas

Otway Basin test drilling spill could impact as far north as NSW

November 17, 2023
  • ConocoPhillips’ modelling shows a hydrocarbon spill could impact anywhere along Victoria’s coast, and the Tasmanian, South Australian and NSW coasts, as far north as Jervis Bay
  • Oil and gas giant ConocoPhillips’ proposed test drilling area covers a Commonwealth marine park and critical habitat for two endangered whale species
  • Public are given just 30 days to comment on ConocoPhillips’ 810-page proposal
  • AMCS has created a public comment and submission guide, with animation of ConocoPhillips’ spills modelling to assist in responding to this proposal.

Fossil fuel giant ConocoPhillips has lodged its Environment Plan for its proposed test drilling project in the Otway Basin to the offshore oil and gas regulator NOPSEMA, giving the public just 30 days to make comments on its 810-page plan.

Modelling from ConocoPhillips’ Environment Plan shows multiple hydrocarbon spill scenarios from an uncontained wellhead blowout in its proposed test drilling areas west of Bass Strait, and that a spill could impact anywhere along all of Victoria’s coast, the Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage coast, South Australia and as far north as Jervis Bay in New South Wales.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has created an online submission guide to assist communities in understanding the threats of this project to our oceans, as well as an animation based on ConocoPhillips’ modelling in its Environment Plan, showing where a spill could impact.

AMCS Oil and Gas Campaign Manager Louise Morris said: “A spill from ConocoPhillips’ test drilling program could be devastating for Australia’s most populated coast, from South Australia across Victoria to NSW, as well as Tasmania and King Island.

“The community has a right to better transparency and accountability in decisions made about nature – but this isn’t happening when the public is forced into a rushed 30-day public comment period on a vast 810-page document that does not provide comprehensible information.

“Australians care about our oceans, and are deeply concerned about offshore oil and gas projects. When we created a public comment tool to help people make submissions about a gas exploration seismic blasting project in the Otway Basin, almost 20,000 AMCS supporters used it to tell NOPSEMA it should refuse that project.

“ConocoPhillips’ Environment Plan details large footprints for six proposed drill sites, but the actual locations are not disclosed. The proposed drilling area includes the Zeehan Commonwealth Marine Park, critical calving grounds for endangered southern right whales and feeding grounds for the endangered blue whale, and 30 other species of whales and dolphins also use these waters.

“Australia’s south-eastern seas contain some of the richest, most diverse life on the planet, from the warm temperate waters around South Australia, Victoria and NSW to the cool temperate waters around Tasmania. They are full of marine treasures, from seals, southern right whales, blue whales and bluefin tuna to threatened kelp forests and unique deep-sea corals which are part of the Great Southern Reef. The vast majority of the marine life in these waters are found nowhere else on Earth.

“Test drilling operations are a high-risk part of oil and gas exploration, as tragically demonstrated by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, when 800 million litres of oil spewed into the gulf for 87 days, killing or harming hundreds of thousands of fish, birds, turtles, whales and dolphins, and destroying the Gulf’s economy.

“Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry is not immune to such accidents. Just a year before the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, a blowout in a wellhead in the Montara oil field 200km off Western Australia’s Kimberley coast led to more than 34 million litres of oil spewing into the Timor Sea for 74 days, destroying fisheries, seaweed farms and people’s health in West Timor.

“Australians don’t want oil and gas exploration and drilling in our southern seas. In the past decade, communities have stopped BP, Chevron and Equinor from drilling in the Great Australian Bight, they have opposed proposed gas exploration off the coast of Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast, and there is a growing campaign against ConocoPhillips’ plans with fishers, surfers and residents joining together in protests across Victoria, Tasmania and King Island.

“We cannot allow more oil and gas industrialisation in Australia’s south-east seas, where marine life is already experiencing multiple threats including climate change, with the waters there warming 3-4 times the global average and a coming marine heatwave.”