The Federal Senate will inquire into British Petroleum’s plan to drill for oil off Australia’s southern coast, amid concerns that the company responsible for the Deepwater Horizon spill could devastate the Great Australian Bight.
The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority has already rejected an initial application lodged by BP, which is seeking to carry out exploratory drilling in the region.
Last year, the Wilderness Society commissioned modelling which showed the catastrophic impact an oil spill could have on the waterway. The projections showed that even a “low-flow” spill would see oil lapping at the shores of Western Australia and Victoria.
As well as impacting on biodiversity, the modelling found a spill could result in the closure of fisheries in the Bight, Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea.
Concerns around the potential for an oil spill have been fuelled by the fact that BP is responsible for the worst in history – the Deepwater Horizon debacle – which spewed millions of litres of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and lasted for 87 days.
“BP must be held to account for its shocking environmental record and poor community consultation,” said Robert Simms, a Greens Senator for South Australia.
Simms said the company’s lacklustre response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster is proof that “BP don’t have the capacity to handle disasters”. “Companies like this should not be given carte blanche access to drilling in this precious habitat,” he said.
The Greens’ concerns are evidently shared by the Labor Party, and Independent senators Nick Xenophon, Glenn Lazarus, and Jacqui Lambie, who lent their vote to establish the inquiry.
The Senate will investigate the potential effect of a spill on the marine environment, industries like tourism and fishing, and what capacity the company and government have to plug any leak.
In the meantime, Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen said that if BP resubmits its application to drill before the Inquiry reports back, it would be “treating the Senate and the Australian people with contempt”.
The Senate’s Environment and Communications References Committee will report back by May 12.
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