Oil And Gas Leases Cut Swathes Through Vital Whale Habitat
All around Australia oil and gas companies are closing in on vital whale habitats. Any day now leases covering endangered blue whale habitat and right next to calving grounds for endangered southern right whales will be handed over to oil and gas companies to explore with their deafening seismic airguns and accompanying vessels. Bidding closes today for another adjacent lease area over blue whale feeding habitat and next month another blue whale feeding ground in the same Bonney Upwelling area will be up for grabs for petroleum exploration.
IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare www.ifaw.org) is calling for critically important areas to be completely off limits to the oil and gas industry and surveys for marine life to be conducted in other areas to determine whether these should be released.
“It appears nowhere is off limits to oil and gas companies and this is going unquestioned both publicly and within government,” said Matthew Collis, IFAW Campaigner.
The Department of Resources’ petroleum area release process involves rounds of shortlisting, bidding and finally the granting of leases to the winning companies. The process is not open to public scrutiny and is allowing the relentless expansion of industry over important whale habitat all around Australia.
“The regulatory system around oil and gas exploration is not good enough. Some areas are simply too important to be handed out for exploitation without any public discussion or community involvement. The government is failing to balance the needs of the whales with the needs of the oil companies,” Mr Collis said.
“It’s no good saying people can have their say once these areas have been handed over to oil companies. There needs to be a debate about whether these areas are handed out at all. The Environment Department needs to be involved at a much earlier stage and be an advocate for whale protection.”
In the coming days and months decisions will be made about three separate lease areas over or adjacent to the Bonney Upwelling which straddles the South Australian and Victorian coast. Bids close today for an area off the coast of Portland, Victoria where blues whale are regularly sighted, while a decision is imminent on an area of important blue whale habitat immediately next to southern right whale calving areas off Warrnambool, Victoria.
The third lease area covers a large section off the Bonney Coast of South Australia and is on the shortlist for the 2012 acreage release which will be announced on 14 May.
“The Bonney Upwelling is recognised by the Australian government as one of only three known blue whale feeding habitats in our waters.
“The government itself states the blue whales that inhabit the Bonney Upwelling feeding grounds “should be regarded as key groups that should be carefully protected”,” Mr Collis said.
In 2010 another of the three recognised feeding grounds, the Duntroon Basin, off the Eyre Peninsula, SA, was released and is pending exploration by Bight Petroleum.
“At the July 2011 International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, Environment Minister, Tony Burke, launched the Blue Whale research project, providing a non-lethal alternative to Japan’s ‘scientific’ whaling in Antarctica.
“At the same time the Environment Department is investing effort and resources in protecting blue whales in the Southern Ocean, the Department of Resources wants to expose blue whales in Australian waters to deafening seismic surveys. If these leases are handed out whales may be forced to avoid key feeding grounds or risk deafening noise in a desperate bid to feed,” Mr Collis said.
All whale and dolphin species have a highly refined acoustic sense with which to monitor their surroundings. They use sound to navigate, locate prey and predators, attract mates, and maintain group cohesion and social interactions. They are extremely sensitive to human-generated underwater noise including that generated by oil and gas exploration such as seismic surveys, underwater construction and increased shipping noise.
About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in distress all over the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW provides hands-on assistance to animals in need, works to prevent animal cruelty, and advocates protecting wildlife and their habitats. For more information: www.ifaw.org Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.