Win for whales and community as Minister upholds previous decision on oil and gas exploration off Kangaroo Island

Thursday, 30 May, 2013
Sydney, Australia

(Sydney - 30th May 2013) IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare has welcomed today’s decision by Environment Minister, The Hon Tony Burke MP, to require further assessment of Bight Petroleum’s plans to explore for oil and gas off Kangaroo Island, SA.


“IFAW applauds Minister Burke for upholding his previous decision on the proposed seismic survey by Bight Petroleum. Minister Burke is right to demand greater scrutiny of offshore oil and gas exploration in this Australian whale hotspot, although we believe he had plenty of reasons to completely reject the application. Along with the Island’s community, we have long held concerns about the potential harm to whales and other marine life in the rich and unique waters off Kangaroo Island,” said Matthew Collis, Marine Campaigns Manager.  


The application by Bight Petroleum to conduct a seismic survey off the west coast of Kangaroo Island, an area of critical importance to endangered blue whales and other marine life, has been determined to be a controlled action under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. Bight Petroleum had previously applied for permission last year. At that time Minister Burke deemed the first application to also be a ‘controlled action’ under the EPBC Act, meaning further assessment would be required. However, rather than follow the process, Bight Petroleum chose to withdraw the referral and submit a second application this March.


“We hope that rather than seek to circumvent the assessment, Bight Petroleum will this time follow the process laid out by the Environment Department. The decision by Minister Burke sends a clear signal to oil and gas companies wanting to explore in sensitive marine environments that they need to think carefully about the considerable environmental issues in these places before bidding for petroleum leases,” said Mr Collis.


“We are now calling on the Department of Resources to put thoughtful consideration into which areas they release for exploration in future years. By avoiding important whale habitats, they can give companies greater certainty and spare communities the ordeal of going through protracted processes to protect the places they love.”


The Minister’s decision, while welcome, ultimately defers a final decision on whether or not exploration can go ahead.


“The final decision has been punted into the long grass for now, but this whole episode demonstrates just how difficult it is to explore for oil and gas in such an important region for marine life and coastal communities. This is why we need a comprehensive strategy for dealing with issues like ocean noise pollution in Australia, which is what IFAW will be advocating this National Whale Day (1 June),” concluded Mr Collis.


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