Six reasons to keep oil out of the Great Australian Bight

“The Great Australian Bight is the greatest whale nursery on this planet. The whale story where I come from is my university, my school… Whales like sperm whales, blue whales, pygmy blue whales, killer whales, humpback whales – they travel down there to honour that great journey, that song, that story of the great white whale Jeedara that is there now… ” – Bunna Lawrie, Mirning Elder.

Chevron, the world’s biggest corporate polluter, wants to be the first of potentially many big oil companies to drill in the pristine Great Australian Bight, a spectacular and untouched ocean wilderness along the Southern coast of Australia.  The Bight is home to abundant life and thriving communities.  Here’s six reasons we agree letting the oil industry in is a bad idea.

1. Oil and whales don’t mix.

The Great Australian Bight is one of the world’s most important whale sanctuaries and a calving ground for Australia’s endangered Southern right whales, thought to number as little as three thousand.  Sharing the Bight’s cold Southern Ocean waters are blue whales, sperm whales, killer whales and humpbacks – the same whales (along with Southern rights) East Coast Australians are used to seeing from coastal vantage points during the whale migration every winter.

great australian bight

The seismic blasts that companies use to locate oil and gas in deepwater are louder than grenades.  The noise is enough to burst human ear drums, but can cause permanent hearing loss to whales which are many times more sensitive to sound than we are.  For whales, hearing loss means losing their ability to communicate, find food, and navigate.  Whales in areas of seismic testing have even been known to stop singing their whale songs.

Add to the mix the ongoing noise from rig operations, routine oil leaks and chemical spills and the massive increase in shipping and risk of ship strikes – one of the greatest killers of whales – and the threat to whales from opening up a new Bight oil province is clear.

And we haven’t even talked about oil spills.

Great Australian Bight

2. 85% of Great Australian Bight marine life is found nowhere else on earth.That’s even more unique species than the Great Barrier Reef.  The endangered Australian sea lion breeds on small islands in The Bight and nowhere else – it’s one of the world’s rarest pinnipeds.  Sharing The Bight are countless animal communities, like critically endangered southern bluefin tuna, great white sharks, albatross, turtles, and seahorses.

great australian bight

In 2010, the deepwater horizon rig spilled over four million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  It took almost three months to stop the flow of oil.  The explosion killed eleven people and the bodies of over 4,000 animals had been collected within weeks of the well finally being capped.  The total number of animals killed and the cost to Gulf biodiversity is countless.  Its effects will continue for decades.

The toll, in loss of life, of a similar spill in the Great Australian Bight – which modelling shows could reach as far East as Tasmania – is hard to imagine, and would surely be immeasurable.

3. The community doesn’t want this.

The Great Australian Bight touches a giant stretch of coastline across Southern Australia.  The Mirning traditional owners, whose Nullarbor coast country meets the head of the Bight, have the great whale, Jeedara – who built the giant limestone cliffs – at the center of their song.  Mirning elder Bunna Lawrie has declared big oil is not welcome in the Great Australian Bight.  

The South Australian councils of Kangaroo Island, Yakalilla, and Victor Harbour agree with Bunna, rejecting the proposal that their communities and high risk oil drilling can co-exist.  Australia’s Southern coastline and its unique ecosystems support thriving fishing communities and bustling tourist towns that would all be at risk from an oil spill.

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4. Any oil they find is unburnable, if we’re serious about climate change.

The historic Paris Agreement didn’t go far enough.  But even by its agreements we can’t afford to burn any new oil we might discover.  We can’t even burn the oil we already have. Research from scientists at University College London said 30 percent of oil reserves we already know about, and 50 percent of gas, are unburnable if we’re to stay below 2 degrees C.

No one knows how much oil and gas is under the Great Australian Bight, but the estimates provided by just one company would equal four times Australia’s current annual carbon emissions alone.  All of that oil needs to stay in the ground.

5. We don’t need the oil anyway.

great australian bight

The future is electric cars. This is not a science fiction story even though it might seem like one now.  Last year, Norway’s four major political parties agreed a plan to ban sales of petroleum-driven cars by 2025, with Germany and India planning to follow suit in 2030.  In 2016, Japan announced that there were more electrical vehicle charging points in Japan than petrol stations.  Meanwhile, China is outspending everyone on research and plans to increase electric vehicle sales ten-fold by 2020 – that’s only three years away.

We only get the full carbon benefit of electric cars if the electricity grid is run by renewables, of course.  But that’s happening faster than many expected, and South Australia’s one of the leading provinces in the world for solar take up – in fact in early 2017 South Australia achieved its 50% renewable energy target eight years early!.

There’s no doubt we still need a momentous shift in our societies, especially the way we travel.  We need to expand public transport and change our cities and economies to reduce commuting time.  And the jet fuel and heavy diesel that run aircraft and ships is a long way off being replaced.  But there’s no doubt the end of the oil age is on the horizon, just as the coal age is well and truly over.

6. We’d be giving the oil and gas away practically for free.

As if all the above is not enough, the Australian Government is basically giving away oil and gas for free.  Under the deals struck by both major parties to woo the oil and gas industry, companies have earned hundreds of billions of dollars in exploration tax credits, meaning they won’t pay anything back to taxpayers for decades. On top of that, serial tax avoider Chevron were even caught out rorting Australia to the tune of $300 million this year in court.  For all the risk, we get nothing in return.

The Great Australian Bight is an unspoilt ocean haven, and we want to keep it that way. You can help kick-start the campaign by chipping in a few dollars and letting Chevron and the Australian government know that oil rigs are not welcome here.

Great Australian Bight

  • Lindsay Doniger

    Please NO oil exploration in the Bite

  • Kerry Maher

    It’s taken many years to increase and not destroy the whales nursing area. OUR government should be doing what Australian people want. NOT YHE OIL COMPANIES!

    • Nathaniel Pelle

      Right on, Kerry. It would be madness. Glad you’ve got our back. – Nat

  • Birgitte Anker

    Please do not start drilling nor make seismic sounds destroy the oceans and animals in it ???????????????????????? Mother nature is suffering much to much. We can not keep destroying the nature we are apart of and live of….but find new sustaniable ways that gives life to the earth instead of killing everything !

  • Fiona Daws

    Do Not drill for oil, you will ruin the bite and destroy a beautiful habbitat

  • Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake.
    Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.- Martin Luther King Jr., civil-rights leader, 1929-1968

  • Louise loosmore

    If there is an oil spill it will be devestating in this fragile area. How would you clean it up BP, chemical dispersants again? We too can be left in the same state BP left the Gulf of Mexico in, in 2010. The chemicals used evidently caused cancer and were toxic to marine animals and people who entered the water. And the oil, where did that go? The oil is believed to be sitting on the sea bed floor. Out of sight out of mind, is that your motto BP?

  • Tony Sharrock

    Drilling for oil in a hostile environment such as the Australian Bight is profoundly problematical and the possibility of an oil spill is highly likely.

    Like the Gulf of Mexico spill BP like all other oil drilling companies take short cuts to maximize profits.

    Outcome, an environmental disaster on a grand scale. Why allow drilling in the Australian Bight when their are other more safer locations to drill for oil.

    When searching for oil the seismic testing that goes on is dangerous for whales who if in the vicinity of the testing could loose their hearing. Hearing is a vital component for a whale to survive and communicate with his or her pod members.

    The Australian Bight leads down to Antarctica which is one of the few environmental gems on the planet and is also the home of many wonderful and precious species of mammals.

    This entire region should be an environmental heritage site protected from any kind of commercial exploitation.

    No to drilling for oil in the Australian Bight.

    Tony Sharrock

  • eusebio manuel

    protention the Reef Australia

  • Dennis Nickell

    Very good arguments presented here for keeping the oil in the ground!

  • Mick hope

    Yes we should drill ,with stricked guide lines,
    It does not bother whales, having seen whales,within arms length, on our project on barrow island,
    We all use, oil, as well as ,green peace,s ships I do donate to green peace, but some time,s wonder why, Bess it keeps back packers in work

    • Melissa Li

      Are you one of those humans who get to pocket some money from the exploration?

      Why don’t you just become on of the whales that have to listen to the deafening sound of seismic blast and know that your future and your future generation is hanging on a thin line from an oil spill accident?

  • Melissa Li

    Good article. I will keep it and share it with as many people as possible.