Can a world heritage site and oil exploration co-exist?

That’s the question that the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources is asking the Australian public. The government are sending out feelers (so to speak) to see how the public reacts to the possibility of releasing hundreds of square acres of the Western Australian ocean floor to oil and gas exploration.

Turtle in the crystal clear water of the Ningaloo. Shot by @jordywydra

So what does this mean?

Realistically you won’t see an operational rig drawing non-renewable resources from the ocean bed for about ten or so years but the process would look something similar to this; Firstly the government will determine whether it is worth the public outcry and anger to release the area for mining companies to propose exploration drilling.

If they decide yes, it is worth taking a gamble on a world heritage site, then mining companies will express their interest in an exploration grant. Any companies that were successful in their bids will then have to apply for an exploration license via the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Environmental Management Authority (NOPSMA).

Before submitting the mining companies produce environmental reports outlining which areas they are wanting to drill as well as committing to outlandish environmental conditions to satisfy public concern… Not surprisingly there is a far outcry from theory to practical ( I mean in theory croquembouche is piss easy to make, but oh boy have you ever tried spinning sugar??? A lot easier said than done!).

That goes for a lot of environmental management procedures. The people producing the reports are usually a few hundred km away from the proposed sites. Overcommitting environmentally, knowing good and well that they will never have to execute the procedures they’ve written.

Map of Australia with potential areas of release for oil and gas exploration in orange.
Proposed areas to be released. (Australian Government)


Okay, so the government ignored us, now what?

Any companies that were awarded an exploration tenement will send out ships with massive drills. These drill into the seabed and hope they strike it rich with a vast ore body. They drill as many holes as their budget allows, and this data will be used to calculate how large the ore body is. The results from the data will determine if it is economically worth mining or not.

Meanwhile, there is silt, oil and cement being spilt into the ocean.

Do the positives outweigh the negatives?

Absolutely not: oil and gas drilling is a short term fix for jobs and greed with the potential to have long term damage to the environment. In a world in a current pandemic, Western Australia has an unemployment rate of 8.1% (ABC) and jobs are much needed. Oil and gas jobs are mostly filled by specialists, the specialist jobs are more than likely not going to be filled by locals but sourced nationally and internationally.

 It is easier said than done banning all oil and gas projects but how am I going to run my petrol car? What about the gas in your stove? It will not be easy, but it can be done. New Zealand has banned all offshore oil exploration. Not all oil and gas mining but exploration for new projects, this means current oil and gas projects can continue while technology for renewable options progresses.

Environmental incidents highlighting the adverse effects of oil and gas

Let’s start off with a throat punch, the holy grail of oil spills: Gulf of Mexico 2010 (the Persian Gulf war oil spill in 1991, does hold the trophy for #1 spot). Can you believe that it has been a whole decade since the oil spill that shocked the world. A quick recap for you: 130 million gallons of crude oil spilt into the ocean. Long story short, we are still feeling the effects today. Scientists have discovered that many species, such as deep-sea coral, common loons, and spotted sea trout, are still struggling, their populations lower than before. (NATGEO) Not to pull on your heartstrings but it is believed that about 1000 dolphins died due to the oil spill. A thousand friendly flippers floating dead on top of the water due to greed ( okay maybe not flipper, captive dolphins aren’t right, but that’ll be a blog for another day). Among the surviving dolphins, many of them are experiencing high rates of reproductive issues, lung disease, heart issues, impaired stress response and earlier age of death (NATGEO).

Study Shows BP Oil Spill Could Have Been Prevented by Regulation
2010 BP Oil Spill. (Inhabitat)

I can hear some sceptics out there “oh that was over a decade ago, technology has advanced. Are you still using an iPhone 4??” okay let me squish the rumours… I do not have an iPhone 4, so yes in a sense you are correct technology has advanced tremendously, but that doesn’t stop the oil spilling out into the environment. Just ask Russia: a fuel tank facility leaked 21,000 tonnes of diesel into the arctic soil and rivers just last month! (MOSCO TIMES)

Anyone else feel a case of déjà vu? Some refer to Western Australia as the “Wait Awhile” state. Come to think of it maybe the Ningaloo is jealous of all the global attention The Great Barrier Reef got when a tanker spilt approx. 15 tonnes of oil into the ocean, perhaps we want our 15 minutes of global fame scrubbing oil off a turtles shell?

Why can’t we use The Great Barrier Reef as a case study of how not to screw up the Ningaloo? You know learn from the excess fertiliser of surrounding farmland leeching into the waterways and eventually causing algae blooms that coat the coral and causes it to die? Or the coral bleaching from the coal mining across Queensland? Okay, the bleaching isn’t solely from coal mining, but it’s easy to point the finger. And how about not drilling near a world heritage site with the potential to cause an environmental disaster (well another one anyway). In hindsight, why are we even selling our oil? Australia is such a small player in global oil exports, why bother?

Why We Pretend to Clean Up Oil Spills | Science | Smithsonian Magazine


The wrap-up

Will adding your comment of opposition in the link below stop the drilling of gas and oil? No, because there aren’t any proposed exploration licenses. The link below is an expression of how the public feels about the government opening a few hundred acres of the ocean for the possibility of exploration drilling. The fact is the environmental consequences far outweigh the potential benefits. The hundred or so jobs that the drilling program would create places hundreds of more jobs at risk. It is not just the Ningaloo, Coral Bay and Shark Bay are all at risk. The prawn industry in Shark Bay is only possible due to the pristine waters and a healthy water ecosystem.

There is offshore mining happening already off the coast of Exmouth and the Western Australian coast. The significance of the proposed boundaries is that one site is within the same proximately of Perth to Rottnest (around 20km for anyone not from WA). So if thousands of people can swim that distance every year, clearly a world heritage site is at risk. Instead, why aren’t the residents of Exmouth consulted by the government and being asked what they can do to help develop the town and tourism? Empower the coastal towns while maintaining the conservation significance of the reef system and ocean ecosystems. This development would create sustainable jobs for future generations to come (rather than until the NON-renewable resources are exhausted).

 Still unsure? Think about the mum and dad businesses that have put their blood sweat, tears and life savings into a company that could risk losing it all if an oil spill occurred. Compare this to a cleanup bill of a billion dollars (chump change for most mining companies)and an apology. They would simply rebrand and move on, all awhile the Ningaloo suffers for years to come.

Keep the Ningaloo pristine: Check out these imagines shot by Jordy Wydra @jordywydra