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Timor oil spill: Prevented – maybe? Impact – definitely!

January 13, 2010

Well, no surprises to see this media taking place.  One of Australia’s largest oil spills might have been prevented had [Government] properly monitored offshore wells, ABC online informs us today.

West Atlas Rig 2 Sep 12 09 Environs Kimberley

Submissions to the Montara Commision of Inquiry  are hand-balling the blame for this incident around the table between different Government agencies.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority has said that if it had been in control of regulation, the risk of a spill would have been far less likely:

“A more focused and better resourced administration of the arrangements for regulating the integrity of wells would have significantly reduced the likelihood of occurrence of this uncontrolled hydrocarbon release.”

Perhaps I am just being cranky, but this seems to me to be missing the point. Yes, it is important that regulation gets tighter, and yes it is clearly important that we reduce the likelihood of this happening again (I am not in a position to know if the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority would do this better or not), but what is more important is why was this oil and gas rig there in the first place?

And, why did it take the Government so long to figure out that this spill was causing massive impacts? [See my previous post  for my thoughts on this subject]

The Environment Kimberly has made much a more sensible statement today: 

“While we are relieved the Montara well has finally been plugged, we are very concerned that the massive amount of oil that leaked into the Timor sea off the Kimberley coast will have an impact on sea life for years to come.

 The government has yet to make it clear how they will make sure this type of disaster doesn’t happen again in an area that has extremely high natural values. The marine areas in the north west have a high diversity of cetaceans such as whales and dolphins and are a hotspot for sea snakes and turtles as well as a huge variety of fish and corals.

The only way to protect the pristine marine areas off the Kimberley coast is not have oil and gas there in the first place. This is what happened on the Great Barrier Reef decades ago and Kimberley coral reefs are of global significance and are just as important.

We need large sanctuaries that protect marine life from threats such as oil leaks otherwise it will no longer be a haven for sea life that is found nowhere else on earth.”

Oil horizon to horizon Sep 12 2009 Environs Kimberley

Oil and its toxic impacts will remain in the region for years to come. With anywhere from 10 to 20 million litres of oil spilled into the ocean, the Government’s own Rapid Assessment of the Impacts of the Montara Oil Leak on Birds, Cetaceans and Marine Reptiles positively identified at least 4 species of whales and dolphins (462 individuals), 23 species of birds (2801 individuals), 2 species of turtles (25 individuals) and 4 species of sea snakes (62 individuals) during a short five day survey near the end of the spill. As migratory species continue to move into the region in the coming months the oil slick will have an increasing impact.

Our knowledge of the aftermath of the Exxon spill informs us that the animals who call this place home will be living with the impacts to their food chain and in themselves for decades. How many animals, communities, populations and probably even species will we have lost because of these 10 weeks of human folly. Sadly we many never know the full truth of it.

So, I am glad that someone is making sense in the midst of this madness – thank you Environment Kimberly!

Margi Prideaux

I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts: Public hearings will likely be held in February. There is a healthy debate amongst people who were active trying to get the Government to move forward on this oil spill about the focus of the inquiry. I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts about what the inquiry should focus on; and indeed if the management of this industry should change.

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