Environmentalists call for end to offshore oil expansion

ABC News

Environmentalists call for end to offshore oil expansion

By David Weber for AM

Posted Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:03am AEDT

Updated Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:07am AEDT

Environmental groups have renewed their call for a halt to the
expansion of the offshore petroleum industry, after a company
revealed the likely causes of a massive oil spill in the Timor Sea.

Oil leaked from the Montara wellhead platform off Australia’s
north-west coast over a ten week period last year.

In its submission to the Montara Commission of Inquiry, the company
PTTEP Australasia says a missing piece of equipment was among the
causes of the spill.

Other submissions from environment, marine and industry groups are
highly critical of the Federal Government’s handling of the case.

PTTEP Australasia says the leak was probably caused by a combination
of failures, including the absence of a pressure containment cap.

Dr Gilly Llewellyn of the WWF says the admission calls into question
the company’s competency.

“Look it was actually shocking to see their submission because they
failed to put in place a safety mechanism,” she said.

“Their submission calls into question their competency and whether
they should be able to continue to operate out in the north-west area.”

The extent of the damage to the environment is still unclear, and may
not be known for several years.

Conservation groups have made submissions critical of the Federal
Government for failing to have detailed information on marine life in
the area before the disaster.

“There’s a total lack of baseline information, and this is just
totally inadequate in terms of protecting this kind of incredibly
important marine area because how do we know what kind of impact an
oil spill is going to have if we don’t know what creatures were there
beforehand,” said Martin Pritchard of Environs Kimberley.

He says the Australian Institute of Marine Science has been critical
of the Government for failing to announce a monitoring program, some
55 days after the incident.

“The Australian Institute of Marine Science has shown that there was
significant delays in putting in place an effective damage assessment
so that we could see exactly what was happening there, and the
Federal Government really needs to make sure that in the future if
this type of thing happens again then there’s a much better and
quicker response.”

The Federal and Northern Territory Governments have joint
responsibility for the Montara well, but the WA Government says it
has a strong interest in the commission of inquiry.

The State Minister for Mines and Petroleum, Norman Moore, says the
Federal Environment Department has already revealed its own errors.

“I find it quite interesting that the Commonwealth Department has
admitted that it made a number of mistakes,” he said.

“That’s important from our point of view because the Commonwealth
ministers are wanting to take over complete control of all offshore
petroleum activities in Australia and to get rid of the joint
authority arrangements.

“And we will be resisting that, I might add, because we think the
West Australian Government is quite capable.”

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