Greenpeace joins Port Lincoln protest against drilling in Great Australian Bight
Protesters on boards or boats joined the Rainbow Warrior to oppose oil drilling in the Bight. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)
Greenpeace has called for the Great Australian Bight to have the same protection status as the Great Barrier Reef as it protests, along with hundreds of residents, against plans for oil drilling there.
The call comes as its iconic flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, has stepped up its anti-oil campaign by touring the Great Southern Reef system from Victoria to Western Australia to protest Norwegian oil company, Equinor, drilling an exploration well in the Bight next year.
The company has already conducted some seismic testing in the area.
The Rainbow Warrior led a protest in Port Lincoln in South Australia on Sunday where 100 people created a flotilla of surfboards, paddleboards, yachts and powered boats flanked by around 300 protesters on the wharf.
Around 100 protesters joined Greenpeace in the waters off Port Lincoln to oppose drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)
Greenpeace Australia and Pacific chief executive, David Ritter, said the Great Australian Bight is unique and drilling in the area would be “insane”.
“In a place as magnificent and as special as the Bight, where numerous local communities and fantastic wildlife depend on healthy oceans, it would be insane for oil drilling to go ahead,” Mr Ritter said.
“The Great Australian Bight is such a significant region for SA and for all Australians.
“More than 85 per cent of the species in the Bight are found nowhere else on the planet and we’re talking about the most remarkable animals — leafy sea dragons, the whales, the dolphins, and so on.
“It is absolutely essential that the Great Australian Bight get the same kind of protection that we’ve seen afforded to other wonders of the world.”
Greenpeace Australia and Pacific chief executive, David Ritter, is calling for greater protection for the Great Australian Bight. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)
Seafood industry opposes drilling
Members of the Australian seafood industry have openly opposed the oil exploration and have called for an inquiry into the seismic surveys, which fire intense soundwaves into the ocean floor, potentially harming sea life.
Only one commercial fishing vessel took part in the flotilla protest on Sunday.
The Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association president, Brian Jeffriess, has been vocal in opposition to seismic testing.
He said the industry had not joined the protest because there were different ways of lobbying on the issue.
Greenpeace has previously opposed tuna farm locations on Kangaroo Island, and super trawlers fishing in the Great Australian Bight, but have now found themselves aligned with the fishing industry.
“Anyone who loves or [whose] livelihood depends on the ocean, is pretty much united here,” Mr Ritter said.
“The consequences of a spill from oil in the Great Australian Bight would devastate all of the local fishing industry, would be devastating for tourism, it would be devastating for anyone who loves the ocean.”
Equinor ‘keen’ to protect environment
Equinor Australia country manager, Jone Stangeland, said the company had held more than 130 meetings with a broad cross-section of community groups to listen and learn.
“We know there are a broad range of views in the community,” Mr Stangeland said.
“We have met people that are keen to learn about how we will protect the environment, and we have also met many people who are excited about the opportunities and jobs a discovery [of oil] could bring to the region.
“We will not go ahead with operations if we are not convinced we can do it safely.
“If there is oil and gas in the Bight, it could turn into significant opportunities for jobs and economic growth, like in other regions in Australia.”
The crowd gathered on the Port Lincoln wharf to protest drilling for oil in the Bight. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)
Mr Stangeland said the licenses came with a commitment to drill one exploration well within 2020, and the focus is “to prepare for safe operations”.
He said the full draft environment plan would be released on the company’s website and the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority’s website in the first quarter of next year for public comment.
“Equinor has a track record over more than four decades, operating successfully and in coexistence with fisheries and tourism in Norway and around the world,” he said.
“We regularly drill in deep waters with comparable weather conditions to the Great Australian Bight without incidents.”
Giving the community a voice
Port Lincoln protest organiser Nell Taylor said the protest gave a voice to locals impacted by the drilling.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to give the community a chance to show that they are resistant to oil, the oil industry coming in, and putting all our beautiful seafood industry, tourism industry and our environment and lifestyle at risk,” Ms Taylor said.
“I think the community really embraced this opportunity.”
Nell Taylor of the Great Australian Bight Alliance said drilling for oil in the region will put fishing and tourism industries at risk. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)
Some locals questioned Greenpeace protesting against the drilling of oil in the Bight when the Rainbow Warrior used fuel to motor into the wharf on Saturday and was seen refuelling.
“You can only be as sustainable as you can possibly be,” Mr Ritter said.
“The ship was custom-made for Greenpeace and is designed to be as sustainable as possible using sails wherever we possibly can.
“Yes, it does use some fuel and the reality is, as one of Greenpeace’s founders said, ‘You can’t save the world in a row boat’.”
An anonymous onlooker at Sunday’s protest who worked in the oil industry off WA said the safety standards and environmental practises on board an oil rig were very stringent and there had been no incidents for over 40 years.
He did not want to give his name for fear of retribution in the community.
Council considers employment opportunities
The Port Lincoln community has been divided on the issue.
Its council voted to take a stance against drilling for oil in the Bight in September, only for the motion to be overturned.
Port Lincoln’s newly-elected mayor, Brad Flaherty, has been open about previous links with the oil and mining industries.
Mr Flaherty told the ABC he would represent the council and the ratepayers of Port Lincoln.
“I have a belief, and I’m hoping the council will come with me on this journey, that we have to believe in generational employment for our kids and our grandkids within the city,” he said.
“We have to ensure that Port Lincoln is a viable and sustainable city into the future … we have to embrace any opportunity that comes our way.
“We are a commercial port so we have to look at what the options are from a city viewpoint.
“As long as all the environmental safeguards and the Federal safeguards are in place, in the appropriate area, then we have to consider any opportunity that comes our way.”
Greenpeace will conduct research on reefs off Ceduna in the next few weeks before continuing its anti-drilling campaign in WA.