Coast watchers blast seismic test process

February 7, 2024 8:45 am in by
Thousands of square kilometres of ocean are under gas exploration applications (Australian Institute of Marine Science).

Opponents of the rapidly expanding fossil fuel sector in the southern ocean say operators are using ‘cowboy licences’ to search for gas and they should be scrapped.

Multinational firm CGG is the latest to apply for a Special Prospecting Authority (SPA) permit with the federal regulator to carry out mass seismic blasting off the coast, this time within kilometres of the 12 Apostles.

SPA’s are controversial as they are not subject to the rigours applied to traditional exploration licence procedures, earning the description of ‘cowboy permits’ from critics like the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

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“Bargain basement cheap to apply for, side step all the normal checks and balances including whether a company is a fit and proper person,” the AMCS’ Louise Morris said.

She says permits that cost $8250 and allow companies to conduct up 180 days of seismic blasting do not have enough checks and balances given they allow for the activity in areas that include calving grounds for the endangered southern right whale and other species.

The AMCS is one of several groups that organised weeks of rallies and protests along the coast over the summer holidays where communities say they’re struggling to keep up with the growing number of gas
projects underway in the Otway Basin.

“It’s a David and Goliath scenario,” Ms Morris says.

“It’s hard to engage with, it’s hard to navigate and if you are doing this with a smell of an oily rag and taking on…you know this is oil and gas multi-nationals.”

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The Australian Marine Conservation Society is closely tracking the fossil fuel expansion in the southern ocean.

CGG lodged its over 3000 page Envirornment Plan with the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) on January 18, with 30 days consultation opening to the public on January 25, the day before a public holiday long weekend.

A constant criticism of the regulatory process is that one of the only ways the public has any say over fossil fuel projects is by wading through thousands of pages of complex reports and making a submission to the regulator on the application, and do so within a month.

Louise Morris says its unfair playing field, and one that greatly favours proponents.

“It’s many, many pages, incomprehensible information, and when we come back and ask for things to be clarified its still very hazy,” she said.

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The AMCS says its supporting the community by setting a submissions page on its website to help streamline the “labyrinthine” process for people.

The group is hoping for a similar response to the previous seismic blasting proposal from TGS Schlumberger, that received a record of over 30,000 submissions, 20,000 of which came via the AMCS.

‘We now have until February 26 to encourage people from across the country to stand with us to oppose these seismic blasting proposals for fossil fuels, as this is just one of many, and to abolish these cowboy SPA permits,” Ms Morris said.

To view the CGG application click here.