Media Releases - 11 June 2021

Seismic Blasting Inquiry: Saturation bombing-like impacts from an industry past its use-by date

The release of a Senate Inquiry report into the use of seismic blasting to locate and drill for oil and gas under the seabed has detailed the opposition of coastal communities, weak regulation, outdated science and has put forward 19 recommendations for reform.

The Report, Making waves: the impact of seismic testing on fisheries and the marine environment, was released by the Senate’s Environment and Communications References Committee yesterday evening.

Jess Lerch, National Corporate Campaigner for the Wilderness Society said, “this report makes it all too clear that for both our marine environments and communities around Australia, seismic blasting offers nothing but serious downsides.

“Last month, the International Energy Agency released its Net Zero by 2050 Report that clearly stated that oil and gas exploration needs to cease this year to secure a safe climate. Seismic testing is the earliest and most speculative phase of offshore fossil fuel exploration, and this Senate Report identifies a litany of risks, burdens and impacts upon coastal communities around the country before, during and after the seismic blasting process.

“We simply shouldn’t have to bear these burdens and costs for fossil fuel companies to speculate for an industry that has past its use-by-date. The Senate calling for another levy on the industry to seek to address seismic concerns only plasters over the widening cracks of problems that can only be resolved by adhering to the IEA recommendation of ceasing oil and gas exploration in 2021.

“Seismic testing causes fear and loathing in coastal communities. These oil and gas speculators get to impose themselves on communities and local environments like feudal barons. And even when the fishing industry likens the impact of seismic testing on the sea-floor (and therefore their livelihoods) to a WW2 bombing raid they are ignored.

“Evidence given to the committee by the Head of NOPSEMA’s Environment Division, Mr Cameron Grebe demands attention because it makes it abundantly clear that the independent regulator is not regulating to the standards expected of the community.

CHAIR: It just seems to me throughout the course of this enquiry that the community expectation of what might be unacceptable or what might be environmental harm or serious environmental harm is probably different to the way you apply it in a scientific framework.

Mr Grebe: I think it's a good point. Put simply, the observation is that people are perhaps seeking no-impact or no-risk combined with no‑uncertainty of those two things to be the hurdle that has to be got over. That simply isn't the regulatory regime as it's defined currently, so we can't deliver on that. If those are people's expectations, then they won't be met. I'm sorry, but it won't be because we're not doing our job. It's because that's the framework of legislation that we have to apply.

“Communities across Australia have lived this inconsistency and would no doubt agree with Mr Grebe that their expectations of government regulators are not being met. It is all too abundantly clear that the government is currently regulating based on the oil and gas industry’s version of “acceptability” rather than the Australian community’s. It’s hard to imagine a more direct indictment of a regulatory system or clearer demonstration of a need for urgent regulatory reform.

“Unless we start regulating this industry to the expectations of the community, the idea of oil and gas holding any sort of social licence to operate is an utter fantasy,” said Ms Lerch

Graham Hammond, Chair of the Scallop Fishermen’s Association of Tasmania illustrated the impact of seismic testing in Tasmania’s waters in his evidence to the committee, likening its impact on the fishery to a saturation bombing raid.

“Our communities here in lutruwita/Tasmania are facing these threats right now,” said Tom Allen for the Wilderness Society Tasmania.

“Despite this report’s recommendations, the King Island community is facing the imminent prospect of having its fishery destroyed by the seismic blasting ConocoPhillips intends to conduct off the island. Looking for fossil fuels that the IEA says aren’t needed in a net-zero world lets companies like this profit while communities, including King Island, have to carry the cost.

“This is unacceptable not least because if you asked King Islanders if they want seismic blasting to go ahead in their waters, we are confident there would be a resounding “no!”, said Mr Allen.

For more information contact Jess Lerch on 0423 057 828 or Tom Allen on 0434 614 323