Two-year legal fight reveals oil industry's Great Australian Bight spill spin

By | | comments |
Deepwater Horizon oil spill, 2010 (Image via

BP has been waging a two-year legal battle with Greenpeace to keep details of how dangerous any oil drilling would be in the Great Australian Bight and how difficult it would be to respond in the event of an accident. Greenpeace's, Simon Black reports for IA.

THERE IS A WELL-KNOWN saying that “trust starts with truth and ends with truth”.

So how can you trust an industry that spends more than two years fighting to avoid telling you the truth?

The answer is you can’t.

Especially when that industry has already demonstrated repeated callous and shocking disregard for the very communities it has claimed to care about.

Of course, I’m talking about the oil industry. The same oil industry responsible for the Exxon Valdez, Ixtoc I and the Deepwater Horizon oil spills.

The same industry that earlier this year was forced to own their staggering line that an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight would be a “welcome boost” for the economy, has now been forced to publicly acknowledge its concern and inability to control an oil spill.

Oil company BP has, for the last two years, been waging a legal battle with Greenpeace Australia Pacific to keep these details away from the public.

But they have failed  — and it’s every bit as bad as predicted.

Despite repeated public boilerplate statements about being “the world’s leading deepwater operator” and that there had been “more than two years planning this well to satisfy ourselves that we can operate safely”, behind the scenes a different story was unfolding.

In the documents Greenpeace obtained, the oil company repeatedly refers to the 'significant uncertainty' of the experimental project, in particular, around the pressures and temperatures — factors that contribute to higher risk of an accident.

It also shockingly outlines that the equipment which oil companies claim contains or halts a spill such as capping stacks and relief wells would be incredibly difficult to source and would be unable to be used in the high wave conditions of the Bight much of the time.

More than one-third of the time, in fact — more than 122.8 full days per year.

The document also expresses concerns that the weather conditions in the Great Australian Bight may not provide enough time to run the operator’s preferred well abandonment procedure.

Which does not sound good at all for the workers on the rig.

When you combine these factors, the documents paint a picture of a spill that – BP’s own modelling shows – has the potential to release more than twice the amount of crude oil that entered the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Potentially, the worst spill in human history.

You can see why they tried to hide it. But it doesn’t inspire trust. Especially when the company responsible for it thought that if all that happened and if we were to have a catastrophic spill, it would be – in their own words – “a welcome boost for the economy”.  

So to recap:

  • despite all their big talk about safety, any oil company drilling the Great Australian Bight faces “significant uncertainty” around pressures, temperatures, weather and wave height — they just don’t know what will happen;
  • they are not sure they could get their hands on capping stacks or relief wells in the event of a spill;
  • and even if they did they wouldn’t be able to use them a full one-third of the year;
  • weather conditions on the rig mean the workers may well be stuck on it or forced into raging and dangerous oceans without proper well-abandonment procedure; but
  • none of that matters because, hey, wouldn’t it be great for the economy to have to clean up almost a billion barrels of oil?

To try to hide these facts while spouting platitudes about being able to drill safely is unethical but sadly par for the course for big oil drillers.

It’s the sort of thinking that has seen the natural environment trashed, time and time again, as big polluters are punished for their hubris.

To do it while you’re also snickering behind your hand at the community, by telling people internally that a marine life-ending and fishing industry-crippling spill would be a “boost to the economy” is despicable.

If trust starts with truth and ends with truth, then these companies have exhausted their trust and deserve to be viewed with outright scepticism and distrust from now on.

The Australian Government represents the people of Australia and the people of the Bight. It is up to them to stand up to these deceitful, contemptuous and irresponsible companies and to legislate to protect the Bight forever.

We cannot let these companies get away with their lies and contempt any longer.

Simon Black is the senior media campaigner for Greenpeace Australia Pacific. You can follow Simon on Twitter @mrsimblaa.

Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.

Recent articles by Simon Black
Sick, smashed, systemic and confusing — what's really doing damage

When it comes to taking action against climate change, we need to start thinking in ...  
What does Japan’s whaling announcement actually mean?

What are the ramifications of Japan's decision to resume commercial whale hunts?  
Climate strikes: No, the kids aren't alright

“If you were doing your job properly, we wouldn't be here.”  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate