Five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico of North America, British Petroleum (BP) is set to explore its drilling options off the coast of South Australia.
One of the world’s six major oil and gas companies, BP is looking to drill four wells three kilometres deep and 250 kilometres southwest of the South Australian town of Ceduna. The company is soon expected to submit its environmental plan to the independent federal regular.
But Although BP is looking to move forward into its new venture, there are still lingering questions of whether there could be a repeat of the disaster in North America.
South Australian director of the Wilderness Society Peter Owen in particular wonders what would happen if the catastrophe were to happen again.
“We don’t need a Gulf of Mexico disaster in the Great Australian Bight,” Owen said. “The people of South Australia definitely don’t want BP here, and now BP appears to be saying it won’t be around if it has another disaster.”
BP Developments Australia managing director Claire Fitzpatrick said the company had learned its lessons, pointing to the culture change in the company that puts far more attention to reducing risks and a humility in leadership.
Part of the deal of allowing the project to move forward hinge on BP being able to mobilise a response team to anywhere on the southern coastline of Australia within hours. The company is expected to spend $600 million to $700 million over the next couple of years on this stage of its project.
Nearly exactly six years ago, Australia had to deal with a damaging oil spill of its own when the Montara oil spill occurred in 2009. The disaster caused 500,000 litres of oil and gas to be dumped off the coast of West Australia, and it took 74 days to seal the leak.
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Exploration and production company PTTEP Australiasia took the blame for the spill as operator, but towns bordering the Timor Sea are still feeling the effects. A 250-page report from the Australian Lawyers Alliance last month reported skin conditions and food poisoning suffered by local residents, while there have also been dead fish and oil sightings as well.
In addition, Aussie seaweed farmers and Indonesia fishing villages continue to suffer. Indonesia’s Centre for Energy and Environmental Studies estimates the economic ramifications of the Montara spill to the fishing and seaweed industries amounts to about $1.5 billion per year since 2009.
It’s a problem that still Indonesia is still dealing with, much like the United States is still hampered by the Gulf of Mexico spill.
While the ocean off the coast of South Australia is full of marine life such as many rare whales and sharks, its remote location makes a new oil drilling project even riskier.
“This is an undeveloped, non-industrialised part of the world, and the risks are high,” Owen said. “It’s very deep, very rough and very remote. It’s too important to risk with BP.”