Media Release Offshore Oil and Gas

Senate Estimates reveal second Esso/Exxon Mobil gas rig leak off Victoria’s Gippsland coast in two months

June 8, 2024
  • Serious concerns about environmental impacts of gas condensate spills
  • Serious concerns about offshore regulator NOPSEMA’s timelines and transparency of reporting spills and oversight of projects
  • Serious concerns about Esso/ExxonMobil’s environmental record as it plans to repurpose neighbouring ageing offshore infrastructure for carbon pollution dumping through carbon capture and storage (CCS)
  • CCS has been shown to be expensive and not to work, according to IEEFA report released today

A Senate Estimates economics committee hearing yesterday revealed there has been a second spill off Victoria’s Gippsland coast from offshore gas rigs owned and operated by Esso/ExxonMobil, the Australian Marine Conservation Society said today. A recording of the hearing is available here.

Australia’s offshore oil and gas regulator, NOPSEMA, told the committee that on May 29 Esso/ExxonMobil reported that there had been a gas condensate spill at the Marlin A platform operating in the Gippsland Basin field. This comes just weeks after the April 6 pipeline failure at the Esso/ExxonMobil Kingfish A rig, in which corrosion inhibitor chemicals and gas condensate leaked into the ocean.

AMCS Offshore Oil and Gas Campaign Manager Louise Morris: ”These two spills in as many months in rusting rigs owned and run by Esso/ExxonMobil are extremely worrying.

It’s extremely concerning that we do not find out about these oil and gas leaks into our oceans unless they are uncovered by the media or a Senate Estimates committee.”

Addressing specific questions from Senators David Pocock and Peter Whish-Wilson, NOPSEMA representatives did not reveal which chemicals entered the ocean during the Kingfish A leak from April 6, but nevertheless said the leak was “minor” with “minimal expected impacts on the environment,” without supplying evidence.

Asked about the spill at the Marlin A rig from May 29, in which at least 200 litres of gas condensate was leaked into the ocean, it was revealed that the Resources Minister was not informed about it for up to five days after the leak.

Ms Morris said: “Any amount of chemicals and fossil fuels leaking into our ocean can potentially harm marine wildlife and ecosystems, and impact commercial fisheries operating in the area, and must be taken seriously and information made publicly available.

“Gas condensate can be potentially fatal to marine wildlife. It does not form a distinct surface slick like crude oil, meaning it’s almost impossible to contain. Rather, it evaporates and dissolves, with the component that dissolves into the water being acutely toxic and capable of causing ecological harm.

“These incidents raise huge concerns about Esso/ExxonMobil’s ability to operate and manage its offshore rigs and infrastructure without leaks and spills. This is a huge red flag that the Australian government needs to take action on, especially given the company’s plans for risky carbon pollution dumping via carbon capture and storage (CCS) at another one of its ageing rigs in the ocean between Tasmania and Victoria.”

A report released today by the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) reiterates its findings that carbon capture and storage has a poor track record. The IEEFA report cites the Australian example of the Gorgon CCS project in Western Australia, which has cost more than $3 billion and has underperformed its capture targets each year since it started in 2017.

Ms Morris said: “Carbon capture and storage is a failed, expensive and dangerous attempt to continue the expansion and extraction of fossil fuels.

“The majority of carbon capture and storage projects to date globally have failed to capture as much carbon dioxide as promised, or managed to achieve the longevity proposed, with almost 75% of CCS projects designed to prolong the life of ageing and depleted oil and gas extraction, much like what we are seeing in the oceans off Victoria.

“The Gorgon CCS project has been an expensive failure, costing more than $3 billion and not hitting capture targets since it started in 2017. And the taxpayer picks up the long-term liability for any leaks and accidents into the future.

“The Albanese government’s disastrous Future Gas Strategy calls for more offshore gas exploration and extraction and more ill-advised CCS projects to abate emissions despite CCS being shown not to work as proposed. Dumping carbon pollution in our ocean with CCS requires more seismic blasting to explore for sites, resulting in more harm to our precious marine life.

“AMCS calls on the Albanese government to end the expansion of fossil fuels in our ocean, and end support for failed and dangerous CCS carbon pollution dumping proposals such as those by Esso/ExxonMobil.”