FOI documents show Woodside tried to breach Australia’s international ocean agreements with dodgy oil rig dump

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information and from a public register show that giant oil and gas corporation Woodside attempted to breach Australia’s international ocean protection commitments in its attempts to dump a toxic decommissioned oil rig off the coast of Western Australia.

The documents, sighted by Greenpeace Australia Pacific, show Woodside, in partnership with a state recreational fishing group, entreating the regulator and the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to enable the decommissioned riser turret mooring from its Enfield oil field to be dumped in Australian waters, close to the fragile Ningaloo Reef. The riser turret mooring was acknowledged to likely contain 295kg of the internationally-recognised toxin, pentaBDE (PBDE), a substance highly toxic to marine life.

This would be in direct contravention of Australia’s obligations as a signatory to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972 (the London Convention), which strictly regulates the disposal of waste that may be dumped at sea.

David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said that the obtained documentation showed Woodside’s disregard for Australia’s marine environments and its brazen willingness to flout international treaties.

“Woodside’s been sprung red-handed trying to get around international law, going so far as to ask the Australian Government to turn a blind eye to Australia’s long-standing international commitments to protect our oceans.”

“This company has a long track record of skirting around regulations, and has previously attracted the ire of the regulator, NOPSEMA, for its haphazard and risky approach to decommissioning its discarded oil and gas infrastructure.”

“These revelations make it clear just how little Woodside cares about our precious oceans.” 

Woodside is currently scrambling to push through its Scarborough gas development and pushing for approvals for its Browse field, which will see 54 gas wells drilled in the Scott Reef. This company has repeatedly put profit ahead of marine wildlife safety and our national interest, and should not be allowed to go ahead with a further gas drilling project.”

The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972 (the London Convention) is an international treaty that has been in force since 1975 to protect the marine environment from human activities. It stipulates that vessels, platforms, man-made structures and bulky items may only be considered for dumping if pollutants are removed to the maximum extent, and that hazardous wastes must be assessed prior to dumping. The Protocol suggests screening for hazardous wastes such as “toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative substances from anthropogenic sources” and that if a proponent can avoid dumping waste, then they should avoid doing so.

Woodside’s toxic dumping plans

  • The original proposal considered by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (‘the Department’) for the dumping of Woodside’s riser turret mooring included the dumping of a compartment, likely to contain 295kg of the internationally-recognised toxin, pentaBDE (PBDE). The Department estimated that once the PBDE escaped from the compartment, it could contaminate over 700,000,000 tonnes of ocean sediment. 
  • An amended proposal for the dumping was later provided to the Department. Under the amended proposal, Woodside proposed dumping the full structure as originally planned, but would then detach the contaminated compartment for onshore disposal, with no mitigation plans provided to the Department for dealing with the contaminated compartment should the detachment and removal be unsuccessful.
  • Despite the international requirement for sea dumping to only occur where there are no other practical disposal options, Woodside’s own Environmental Plan outlines multiple options for onshore disposal of the structure.

Woodside’s Annual General Meeting will take place on 19 May, where shareholders will vote on its proposed merger with petroleum giant BHP. Woodside is expected to face numerous shareholder and stakeholder questions on its flimsy climate plan, and the financial risk borne by shareholders in taking on decommissioning costs for BHP’s ageing offshore assets.

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact Fiona Ivits on 0487 003 872 or [email protected]