Posted by: The ocean update | April 19, 2015

BP keeping Great Australian Bight oil-leak study a secret

Oil leaks from the Montara oil rig in the Timor Sea in 2009. Pic : WWF

Oil leaks from the Montara oil rig in the Timor Sea in 2009. Pic : WWF

April 19th, 2015. OIL giant BP is modelling for an 805-tonne oil leak that would last 35 days and poison 100km of coastline if it reached shore, as part of its proposed Great Australian Bight drilling program.

But the full impact of the secret modelling will not be released and opponents of the project have applied to the State Ombudsman to see the “worst-case scenario” emergency plan.

A BP spokeswoman confirmed the disaster modelling when questioned by The Advertiser, and said there was a less than 7 per cent chance of oil reaching the coast within 19 days.

The spokeswoman said it was a “worst-case scenario” without intervention by response crews, which was the industry standard to plan for such events.

If any oil were to make it to coastal beaches, the affected area would depend on the seasonal water currents, she said.

The study also found there was a less than 10 per cent chance of oil reaching surface waters where whales were feeding.

The details of the study only came to light after BP held briefings to ease community concerns about plans by a number of companies to turn The Bight into the world’s next major oilfield over the next three to four years.

Wilderness Society South Australian director Peter Owen said that from what was known of the secret study, the scenario was a significant concern for the fragile environment of the area.

Mr Owen said the company refused to explain why a 87-day leak scenario, as happened in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, was not used.

The Wilderness Society will today mark the fifth anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, to warn people of the potential danger of drilling in Great Australian Bight waters.

“BP plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight but refuses to reveal the modelling for any potential oil spill or its emergency response plans,” Mr Owen said.

“In 2010 the Deepwater Horizon was drilling off the coast from Houston, the centre of the US oil industry, but it still took 87 days to plug the well, in which time nearly 800 million litres of oil devastated the waters, coasts, fisheries, marine life, birdlife and livelihoods.

“The Bight is a whale wonderland, boasting the world’s most significant southern right whale nursery as well as humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales.

“These waters also support orcas, sea lions and some of Australia’s most important fisheries.”

Oil prospecting in the waters of the Great Australian Bight, including by BP, suggests it could be the world’s next major oilfield and more than 20 wells are expected to be sunk in the next three to four years.

The Advertiser asked BP to explain estimates of how much oil would potentially be leaked, how far it could travel, the extent of clean-up and compensation costs and potential loss of wildlife.

The BP spokeswoman said the company was confident “stakeholders” would be satisfied when a

summary of the disaster planning document was released when the project’s environmental plan was submitted to the Federal Government.

“Once the environmental plan has been submitted, BP will release a clear, complete and accessible summary of the plan which will include an overview of the potential oil spill scenarios, and also what we would do to respond to them,’’ the spokeswoman said in a written response.

“The early release of this summary is over and above the regulatory requirements and current industry practice.

“It includes oil spill response arrangements appropriate for the nature and scale of the petroleum activity proposed and for the full range of credible spill scenarios that may result from the activity.

“We are confident that when we publish the clear, complete and accessible summary, it will satisfy the needs of our stakeholders and inform discussion.’’

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