Monday, 23 May 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: which major political party is likely to put brakes on the petroluem industry's risky commercial ambitions in the Great Australian Bight?

For the second time in less than a year multinational gas and petroleum giant BP plc (British Petroleum) has not met all environmental assessment criteria according to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA):

BP Developments Australia Pty Ltd (BP), in its capacity as operator of the proposed Great Australian Bight (GAB) Exploration Drilling Program proposes to drill four exploration wells in Commonwealth marine waters in the GAB. Exact well locations are yet to be determined for all wells; however they will be drilled within a defined ‘drilling area’. The drilling area is the previously acquired Ceduna 3D seismic survey area, which covers 12,100 km2 across Exploration Permit for Petroleum (EPP) 37, EPP 38, EPP 39 and EPP 40. BP and Statoil are the registered titleholders of EPPs 37, 38, 39 and 40, with BP being the Operator. The drilling area has water depths ranging between 1,000 and 2,500 m Lowest Astronomical Tide. At the closest point, the drilling area is located approximately 395 km west of Port Lincoln and 340 km southwest of Ceduna in South Australia (SA). The project is scheduled to commence in the summer of 2016-2017, with each well taking between 45 and 170 days to drill. The wells will be drilled using a dynamically positioned semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU). The purpose of the drilling program is to determine whether the target formations have commercially recoverable volumes of hydrocarbons. Additional project details are available on BP’s project website

On 16 May 2016, NOPSEMA provided BP an opportunity to modify and resubmit their environment plan for exploration drilling in the Great Australian Bight. If BP accepts this opportunity, the modified plan is expected to be resubmitted by 15 July, at which time NOPSEMA will recommence the assessment.
An opportunity to modify and resubmit is a normal part of NOPSEMA’s environment plan assessment process. In fact, NOPSEMA is required by law to provide a titleholder (the company proposing the activity) a reasonable opportunity to modify and resubmit their plan if it doesn’t meet the regulatory requirements for acceptance. NOPSEMA will typically provide two opportunities to modify and resubmit, but is not restricted to providing only two opportunities.
If a titleholder has been given a reasonable opportunity to modify their plan and NOPSEMA determines that it still doesn’t meet the regulatory requirements for acceptance then NOPSEMA will refuse to accept the plan. Since NOPSEMA was established on 1 January 2012, 4% of all environment plans submitted for assessment have been refused.
NOPSEMA has updated the status of the assessment on the Great Australian Bight Exploration Drilling Program submission page. Stakeholders are encouraged to subscribe to the page to receive email alerts of any changes.
For more information about the environment plan assessment process see NOPSEMA’s Assessment process and FAQ pages at

The Wilderness Society re-released this animated graphic on 17 May 2016:

The oil and gas independent regulator, NOPSEMA, has handed down its decision. It has once again knocked back BP’s environment plan. BP has shown it has learnt nothing from its Gulf of Mexico disaster.

BP now has the opportunity to resubmit its application to drill in the Great Australian Bight as early as July. However, BP still hasn’t released its oil spill modelling, so we released independent modelling which shows some the far-reaching impacts of a potential spill.

An explanation of NOPSEMA’s environmental approval process can be found here.

BP currently owes the United States of America an est. US$7.1 billion in fines and compensation for the environmental damage caused by it Deepwater rig oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

This multinational is not the only oil and gas corporation with exploration permits in the Great Australian Bight - Santos, Chevron and Murphy Australia Oil received exploration permits in 2013-2015 which are current until 2020-2021. Joining Bight Petroleum Pty Ltd in the race to drill and be damned.

In November 2013 the Abbott Government ordered a review of certain national marine reserves. In effect by establishing this review it sought to block any increase in level of environmental protection afforded the Great Australian Bight when the GAB Commonwealth Marine Reserve was extended to cover 45,926 km2 with a depth range of 15 to 6,000 metres as part of a wider extension of national marine reserves by the former Labor federal government.

At the time of writing unpublished review recommendations have been in the hands of the Turnbull Government since December 2015 and to date mining exploration is still allowed within the waters of these south-west marine reserves at the discretion of the government of the day.

Although the current petroleum leases appear to be adjacent to but outside the boundaries of the GAB Commonwealth Marine Reserve it is clear from the aforementioned major spill modelling that oil/chemical contamination would reach both this reserve and major commercial fishing grounds within the Bight and Bass Strait.

Before casting your vote on 2 July 2016  you might consider this question: Which major political party is likely to put the brakes on these risky commercial ambitions in the Great Australian Bight?


Corporate Research Project, accessed 18 May 2016:

Starting about 2000, BP attempted the difficult feat of depicting itself as an environmentally friendly oil company. Some of its initiatives were merely symbolic—adopting a sunburst logo and claiming that its initials now stood for “Beyond Petroleum”—while others were concrete steps, such as (modest) investments in solar power. BP’s campaign was all the more difficult because of its involvement in controversial Alaskan oil and gas production, and because its environmental compliance record was far from unblemished.

For example, in 1990 BP agreed to pay a $2.3 million fine as part of a settlement of an $11 million suit that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brought against the company in connection with illegal discharges from BP's Marcus Hook refinery into the Delaware River. Several months later the state of California sued the company over a 400,000-gallon spill of crude oil that occurred in February 1990 near Huntington Beach.

In July 1991 BP was one of ten major oil companies the EPA cited for discharging contaminated fluids from service stations into or directly above underground sources of drinking water. BP agreed to pay a fine of $74,000, and to clean up the contaminated water sources by the end of 1993.

In 1992 the EPA charged BP Chemicals with violating hazardous waste laws at its plant in Lima, Ohio, and sought almost $600,000 in penalties.

In 2000 a federal judge imposed a $500,000 criminal fine on BP for failing to report the illegal disposal of hazardous waste on Alaska’s North Slope. The company was also ordered to establish a national environmental management system to prevent future violations. The total cost to the company from this and a related civil matter was said to be more than $20 million.
In 2002 BP was fined £1 million by UK authorities for violating safety regulations in connection with several accidents at a refinery in Grangemouth, Scotland (later sold by BP).

In 2003 California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District filed an omnibus complaint against BP, seeking $319 million in penalties for thousands of air pollution violations over an 8-year period at the company’s refinery in Carson. BP acquired that facility through its purchase of Atlantic Richfield in 2000. The agency later filed another suit against BP for $183 million. In 2005 the parties reached a settlement under which BP agreed to pay $25 million in cash penalties and $6 million in past emissions fees while spending $20 million on environmental improvements at the refinery and $30 million on community programs focused on asthma diagnosis and treatment.

In 2005 BP was accused of trying to cover up deficiencies in the anti-corrosion coating on the 1,000-mile-long Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that carries oil from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean. BP is the lead participant in the joint venture that operates the pipeline, the largest shareholder in the consortium that owns it, and the operator of the oil fields that supply it.
In March 2006 more than 250,000 gallons of crude oil spilled at BP’s Prudhoe Bay operations in the Alaskan tundra. Several month later, the company shut down the huge Prudhoe Bay oil field because of additional leakage caused by corrosion in the transit line that carried crude oil to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. There were press reports that BP had been warned of the problem more than two years earlier. In May 2007 the House Energy Committee released documents suggesting that cost-cutting pressures weakened preventive maintenance and other safety practices in the period leading up to the leaks.

In October 2007 BP agreed to pay a total of $60 million in fines to the EPA. The amount included $50 million for violations of the Clean Air Act in connection with the 2005 explosion at the Texas City, Texas refinery in which 15 workers were killed. The company also pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the act and was to serve three years of probation. Apart from the fine, BP agreed to spend $265 million for a facility-wide study of its safety valves and a renovation of its flare system to prevent excess emissions.

At the same time, BP agreed to pay the EPA a $12 million fine in connection with the March 2006 oil spill in Alaska, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act, and was ordered to serve three years probation on this offense as well. The company was also required to replace 16 miles of pipeline at a cost of $1.56 billion.

Later, in October 2010, BP agreed to pay $15 million in Clean Air Act penalties in connection with violations at the Texas City refinery.

In 2008 BP and several other oil majors agreed to pay $422 million to settle suits that had been brought by public water systems in 20 states and consolidated in federal court relating to the contamination of groundwater supplies by the carcinogenic gasoline additive MTBE.

At its annual meeting in mid-April 2010, BP faced a barrage of criticism over its involvement in controversial tar sands oil production in Canada.

Only days after that meeting, BP had to contend with a much bigger problem: an explosion at its Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and opened a massive underwater oil leak. While the disaster continued, government investigators were looking into indications that BP pushed for work on the well to move ahead despite evidence of unsafe conditions……

Read the full post here.

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