Petroleum exploration in the Great Australian Bight - finally some scrutiny

Thursday, 14 January, 2016

IFAW has won its legal action against NOPSEMA the offshore petroleum industry regulator, obtaining access to important assessment documents about oil and gas exploration and the risks to whales and other marine life off Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

In November 2014, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) refused to release its assessment documents and the full Environmental Plan under Freedom of Information laws, for its approval of Bight Petroleum’s seismic testing in blue whale feeding grounds.

IFAW took legal action in the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal in April 2015, following NOPSEMA’s second refusal to release the documents under Freedom of Information laws.

The finally released documents reveal NOPSEMA and Bight Petroleum’s assessment of environmental risks associated with the blasting of air guns, on species such as the Blue Whale, Southern Right Whale and Sperm Whale.

NOPSEMA only released the documents after IFAW took legal action against them. It was only after IFAW filed expert evidence on the impacts of seismic activity on marine mammals, that NOPSEMA finally agreed to release the documents – 18 months after IFAW first requested the information.

Rebecca Keeble, Campaigner at IFAW said: “We welcome NOPSEMA’s release of these important documents about Bight Petroleum’s seismic testing and the risks it poses to marine mammals. It should never have taken 18 months of legal manoeuvring  to access documents that should be freely available as a matter of course, if the public is to have any confidence in the regulation of offshore oil and gas exploration. We hope in the future that NOPSEMA will proactively release this type of important assessment documentation, without conservation groups having to take legal action against them to obtain it”.

EDO NSW CEO/Principal Solicitor Sue Higginson, who represented IFAW in their case, said: “This is an important victory for public access to information, which is an internationally recognised procedural right that plays an important role in environmental law.”

For the last four years, IFAW has been campaigning to protect critical whale habitat off Kangaroo Island from the threat of oil and gas exploration from Bight Petroleum’s plans to conduct seismic testing in this pristine area.

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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
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