In the latest of a series of pieces against oil and gas development in Australia, the Guardian published an article decrying Statoil’s exploration effort in the Great Australian Bight. Premised off the questionable supposition that an oil spill in the Bight is inevitable, the Guardian article features a series of quotes claiming that the environmental damage to the Bight would be too enormous and the impact on local fisheries too adverse to justify any exploration efforts.
But the journalist—who was flown out to the Bight courtesy of Greenpeace– managed to leave quite a bit of information out.
For one thing, any drilling activity would have to be approved by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Authority (NOPSEMA), which requires that operators adhere to the highest standards of environmental management, safety management, and community consultation. If NOPSEMA does not approve, no wells get drilled. This system has been effective so far, as evidenced by the fact that the Northwest Shelf in WA has been drilled for over 30 years with no incident.
What’s more, the concern over the Bight’s fisheries is wildly overblown. The article quotes a local director for a wildlife tourism company who claims, “fishing and tourism are ‘everything’ to the region” and that exploration would put his business in “real trouble.” But this interpretation does not align with what has happened in other countries. In Norway- Statoil’s home country- their fisheries and oil and gas operations have successfully coexisted for over forty years, bringing the country enormous wealth without damaging its other industries. In fact, Norway’s Prime Minister noted a few weeks ago that the country’s fisheries have been and remain “a huge success,” even though the country is one of the world’s largest oil producers.
Then there are the economic benefits, which cannot be overstated. Resource development in the Great Australian Bight has the potential to create many highly skilled and highly paid positions. Furthermore, as stated by the Senate Environment and Communications Reference Committee- ‘Oil or gas production in the Great Australian Bight, May 2017:’
“Any increase in economic activity in SA would bring with it a greater demand for port infrastructure. Improved rail and road facilities, cheaper and more abundant power and water in the region.”
On a macroeconomic level, increasing domestic oil production could help Australia wean itself off imports, which have increased significantly over the past 30 years. Statoil predicts the Bight may contain as much as one billion barrels of oil, which would go a long way in terms of reducing Australia’s crude oil imports, which over 2015-2016 accounted 78% of Australia‘s refinery feedstock.
All of this is important context to take into account when people, and policy makers, consider the pros and cons of oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight. Leaving out this information in order to advocate for drilling bans is precisely why the Guardian’s articles need to be taken with a grain of salt.