Media Releases - 17 March 2023

“Extreme, serious and harmful”: IPCC experts respond to proposed fossil fuel expansion off King Island

Banner held by two King Island locals telling ConocoPhillips to go home!
  • 3rd-largest US fossil fuel corporation conducted poor consultation on King Island

  • Less than ten members of the public were recorded attending the one-day consultation

  • Company wants to drill for fossil fuel gas west of King Island despite methane being
    20 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide

  • Great Southern Reef & Bonney Upwelling make this one of Australia’s richest marine environments, includes endangered Blue Whale habitat & underpins fertile King Island brand

The Wilderness Society Tasmania and Surfrider Foundation have attended a public ‘consultation’ conducted by ConocoPhillips on King Island. The consultation is part of the company’s efforts to drill for fossil fuel gas 30km west of King Island. Two high-profile Australian IPCC academics have condemned this proposed fossil fuel gas expansion.

“ConocoPhillips’ consultation is far from comprehensive compared to the island-wide survey the Wilderness Society commissioned in 2021, in which more than 90% of respondents rejected fossil fuels in local waters. It’s hard to understand why ConocoPhillips is progressing its plans when the community’s concerns are crystal clear,” said Tom Allen for the Wilderness Society Tasmania. “Unless of course, it's just a sham consultation.

“A growing number of corporations want to seismic blast, drill and extract fossil fuels from the seabed of the Great Southern Reef. As well as ConocoPhillips, these companies include Schlumberger, TGS, Beach Energy, CGG and 3D Oil.

“A critical factor that allows these companies to do this is the Australian Government, which hands out huge slabs of seabed and then permits fossil fuel companies to blast and drill. Everyone else is ignored - Community Rights be damned. It’s a closed shop and a racket because there’s nothing any member of the public can say or do that can stop it.

“During the consultation, a ConocoPhillips employee advised us that he previously worked for the regulator, NOPSEMA, and referred us to the statements on the NOPSEMA website1 that say “fundamental objection to oil and gas activity” is considered an “irrelevant” aspect of community consultation and therefore it “cannot be considered”. How convenient for NOPSEMA and inconvenient for King Island residents, for whom this criterion makes Conoco’s consultation entirely pointless.

“The Australian Government and ConocoPhillips are trampling King Island’s right to a fair say. This poor process lacks transparency, accountability and integrity. We hope Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek takes note as she considers adding a new community rights standard to the national environment laws. King Islanders have little recourse to seek justice without the right to appeal this proposal on its merits,” said Mr Allen.

“During the course of ConocoPhillips’ supposed one-day public consultation, we recorded just a handful of members of the public entered the consultation. There were no signs outside promoting it and every local we spoke to was unaware it was happening,” said Drew McPherson of the Surfrider Foundation. “You’d think ConocoPhillips would spend more of its multi-billion-dollar profits on running a decent process, unless, of course, it doesn’t care because it doesn’t have to.

“The Great Southern Reef and Bonney Upwelling are globally recognised and comparable to the Great Barrier Reef in importance to marine ecology. This is a marine Garden of Eden. We wouldn’t allow fossil fuel drilling on the Barrier Reef so why is the Australian Government allowing it here? It’s mystifying and reckless.

“The Bonney Upwelling, where the Southern Ocean current hits the Australian continental shelf, brings nutrient rich-waters to the surface, making this an area of marine ecological importance comparable to the Great Barrier Reef and is known as an endangered Blue Whale habitat,” said Mr McPherson.

Professor Brendan Mackey, Coordinating Lead Author for the Australasian chapter of the latest Sixth IPCC 6th Assessment Report, and Professor Gretta Pecl, Lead Author on the same report, have responded to the proposed fossil fuel gas expansion off King Island by issuing a joint statement:

“The science could not be any clearer: any new fossil fuel development is completely inconsistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees as to achieve NZE [net zero emissions] requires a rapid, steep and permanent decrease in fossil fuel emissions this decade, and according to the International Energy Agency, a decrease in natural gas use of 70% by 2050.

“Severe impacts as a function of human-influenced climate change have already been experienced here in Australia and in other countries around the world – to limit further damage, urgent mitigation action is needed to achieve deep and rapid cuts in CO2 emissions from all sources, especially fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas). The risks from allowing business-as-usual, let alone increased, CO2 emissions to push global warming above the 1.5 °C threshold will likely be extreme and have serious and harmful consequences”.

For further comment contact Tom Allen on 0434 614 323 and Drew McPherson on 0401 553 853

1 Text on all consultation projects, within NOPSEMA’s online ‘Citizen Space’ - see last paragraph: