Australian Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt said Thursday that protestors attempting to disrupt gas exploration to the west of King Island in Australia's Bass Strait were wasting time and energy and has called for them to allow ConocoPhillips to proceed with work.
Earlier this week, activists from GrassRoots Action Network Tasmania (GRANT) and Otway Climate Emergency Action Network (OCEAN) paddled on surfboards in front of and then boarded Shearwater GeoServices seismic survey vessel Geo Coral in the Port of Geelong, Victoria, in an attempt to prevent the vessel from conducting a survey 27 kilometers west of King Island.
According to OCEAN's press release issued earlier this week, a total of 40 protesters had approached the ship on surfboards and blockaded the high security gateway to the port. Three activists then locked themselves to the gates with chains and bike locks.
"One man was cut free and arrested whilst the other two unlocked voluntarily. All three were released with no formal charges made at this stage," OCEAN said earlier this week.
OCEAN said that the seismic survey plans by ConocoPhillips and its partner 3D Oil "have rung alarm bells for fishers, environmentalists, and King Islanders."
Lisa Deppeler from OCEAN said: "The seismic blasts are so loud they are no longer a sound you can actually hear; they are a massive shock wave of energy; scientific evidence confirms the blasts kill, damage and disturb a huge array of marine creatures including whales. Research has shown blasts destroy zooplankton for at least 1.5kms radius. These blasts go off every 0 seconds, 24 hours a day sometimes for months on end. All this when we don’t need to find new gas, we have enough in known reserves for the next 30 years. If we are to limit global warming and for our planet to be a safe place for our children to live, we must leave fossil fuels under the ground.
OCEAN also cited Trevor Barker, described as 3rd generation fisherman from Apollo Bay who attended the protest in Corio.
"Trevor says he has seen a significant decline in crayfish catches over the last few years. Fishing grounds that have been blasted can take more than 5 years to recover after a seismic ship has been through," OCEAN said.
Study: No Impact of Seismic on demersal fish
Worth noting, a recent study conducted Australian Institute of Marine Science & Partners in Western Australia's waters found no evidence that a seismic survey impacts a demersal fish fauna.
The authors of the study said: "There are conflicting views on the impact of these surveys on fish fauna and whether they harm commercial catches. To resolve this issue, we conducted an experimental seismic survey and monitored the composition, abundance, behavior, and movement of an assemblage of commercially important demersal fishes on a shelf habitat using acoustic telemetry and underwater video. We found that the seismic survey did not alter fish abundance or behavior in multiple before-after-control-impact and dose-response experimental frameworks. Our work may allay some of the concerns of stakeholders about the negative impacts of seismic surveys on demersal fishes in tropical shelf environments." Read more here.
Minister: Activists driven by extreme ideology
Commenting on the protestors' action Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt said they were wasting time and energy and "should abide by the environmental umpire’s decision and let the crucial work proceed to guarantee future energy supplies to south-eastern Australia."
Minister Pitt said the company behind the project, ConocoPhillips, has received all required environmental approvals to carry out the work.
"The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) is regarded as a world-leading regulator of the industry and people can be assured any work will be carried out under the strictest guidelines,” Minister Pitt said.
"Activists disrupting the project are clearly driven by extreme ideology. They refuse to acknowledge the facts around the industry."
"NOPSEMA has ensured that gas exploration has occurred safely in this area for decades and operated alongside other industries, including tourism, with no harm to the environment,” Minister Pitt said.
"Bans on onshore gas exploration imposed by the Victorian Government have inevitably led to a decline in local energy supplies, which is now having an impact on the state’s business and manufacturing sectors.
"Gas exploration and production ensure homes and businesses can access affordable and secure energy into the future. The gas industry supports thousands of direct and indirect jobs in Victoria and across the east coast.
"Wildly false and misleading claims from the Greens and other activists about the impact of exploration should be seen for what they are – attempts to destroy our gas industry. The company should be allowed to proceed with its crucial work that will bring benefits to all Australians.”
Shearwater said back in March it had won a contract for a 3D multisensor marine seismic survey, in the Otway Basin, offshore Australia, without providing the name of the client at the time.
However, what it did share corresponds to the reported survey planned by ConocoPhillips.
Oslo-listed Shearwater said in March that the approximately two-month survey was expected to start in Q3 2021 covering an estimated 2,700 square kilometers and that it would deploy the Geo Coral vessel, using a multisensor streamer system with a variable streamer spacing configuration.
Not all politicians disagree with the protesters.
Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, of the Australian Greens, said on Facebook:" Yes legends! What an effort! These incredible young activists, through their peaceful and non-violent direct action, stopped the ConocoPhillips Seismic Testing vessel bound for King Island from leaving the Port of Geelong today.
"This is going to be a David and Goliath fight against one of the worst offenders of the dirty, polluting, fossil-fuel industry, and if we can all channel some of the energy that these young people have in the past three days I have no doubts our fight will be victorious in the end!"
According to MarineTraffic.com, the Geo Coral eventually managed to leave the port and is on its way to the Bass Strait location where it should start its surveys. The estimated arrival time to the offshore site is shown as Saturday, August 21, 2021.