VICTORY: British Petroleum will not drill in Great Australian Bight

IFAW has been particularly concerned about the threats facing marine life off Kangaroo Island,.

Rebecca Keeble, Senior Campaigns & Policy Officer, IFAW Oceania, submitted this blog.

This week saw a great win for whales and dolphins when BP (British Petroleum) announced that it would not proceed with plans for exploration drilling in the Great Australian Bight (GAB), offshore South Australia.

For many years, IFAW has been highlighting the risks of oil exploration to whales in the waters off South Australia, Kangaroo Island and around Australia

The rich biodiversity and unique nature of the waters from western Victoria to the eastern Great Australian Bight have been found to not only support blue whales, southern right whales and humpbacks; but also sperm whales, pilot whales, beaked whales and many species of dolphin.

Yet despite this, the area has been under threat from oil and gas companies keen to explore for resources...until this week.

IFAW has been particularly concerned about the threats facing marine life off Kangaroo Island, after our own research undertaken in 2013 revealed exciting results about the whales and dolphins found in this special place. More than 50,000 of you also shared our concerns and asked the Australian Government to protect our important marine life from plans for oil and gas exploration in these waters by Canadian oil and gas company Bight Petroleum. 

In June 2015, the whales and dolphins won a temporary reprieve when Bight Petroleum failed to start its controversial plan for seismic testing.  Instead of blasting this pristine marine environment with the continual, deafening sounds of industrial air guns, there was a sound of silence.  This silence continued as events conspired against the Canadian petroleum company’s unpalatable plan, including:

  • your continued opposition to seismic testing in the area;
  • the Government’s own scientists expressing reservations about the proposed drilling;
  • the fact that investors don’t want to spend money on such a risky venture

All of this ensured that Bight Petroleum withdrew.  

When Bight Petroleum failed to explore for oil and gas, we remained optimistic that science and common sense would win the day for whales, but there was a greater looming threat, British Petroleum (BP).

Together with  our own direct responses to BP’s plans and NOPSEMA*, the offshore petroleum industry regulator, and most recently IFAW’s involvement at a Senate Committee inquiry into oil and gas production in the Great Australian Bight, IFAW helped to coordinate early NGO responses to BP's drilling plans and has continued to provide advice to other NGOs seeking us out for advice on whale-related issues. All of these actions with your help have been part of the pressure maintained on oil companies in the Bight and have helped produce this outcome. 

So while we celebrate that the marine life off South Australia is safe for now, unfortunately the threat from oil and gas, ship strike and over fishing still remain thanks to the suspension of our national network of marine parks


*NOPSEMA is the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) is a Commonwealth statutory agency regulating all offshore petroleum facilities in Commonwealth waters and in coastal waters where state and territory functions have been conferred. 

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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