As Aussies are encouraged to travel locally, oil and gas exploration continues to threaten treasured parts of our coastline. We’ve gotta fight back.
Norweigan energy company Subsea 7 applied for ‘acreage releases’ off the West Australian coast earlier this year, including two that encroached on the Ningaloo Reef and Shark Bay World Heritage Areas. Some permits would see industrial activity within 18km of the reef.
The area 1200km north of Perth is underresearched, but with over 2000 known species and a swathe of unique habitats, it’s expected that further studies will classify the region as world-class.
The reef is a tourist hotspot for divers, thanks to the wealth of sea life and extensive coral systems. Humpback whale populations have recovered here and there are opportunities to dive with Whale sharks (though practices are coming under increased scrutiny).
According to underwater photographer and WAE contributor Lewis Burnett, who worked on the reef as a photographer, ‘the remote nature of the reef has been its saviour’, with much less damage from tourism than its posterchild cousin, the Great Barrier Reef.
Beyond tourism, the Exmouth Gulf also supports commercial fishing, and is particularly important for prawn production.
Oil & Gas Wants To Move South
The relatively unpopulated north-west of Australia is a hub of oil and gas exploration and extraction, but permits have been moving south. In the case of Subsea 7, the company plans to build a facility to construct pipelines up to 10km long, that it would then tow through the reef. Yeah, kind of like the ‘we’re not gonna mine it, just dredge it a little‘ argument happening on the other side of the country.
The acreage system involves oil and gas companies nominating regions they’d like to explore and putting them out for public comment. Safe to say, this involves some pretty proactive work by organisations like Protect Ningaloo, who got enough public complaint (in this case, 30,000 signatures) to get the government to take the threatened regions off the table. But that’s 49 permits in just one area. How many do we have to fight nationally each year? How many will slip through the cracks? Do I even need to bring up the sacred sites Rio Tinto blew up?
If it seems crazy to be threatening a growing tourist area by extracting a substance responsible for warming and our catastrophic bushfire season, that’s because it is.
Safe, For Now
The Federal Government has taken 7 of the 49 requested regions off the table, including the ones affecting Ningaloo and Shark Bay. It joins wins against Equinor and a recent win at Manyana on the south coast of NSW (we’re not celebrating that one until it’s locked in), but there’s a worrying trend.
The Tarkine is still unprotected, plans to seismic test just off the coast from Sydney are still on the table and we’re still burning fossil fuels like it’s not going out of fashion. Adani basically floated through the approval process.
It feels like attacks are happening on every front, so fatigue’s sure to set in on individuals and organisations. It sucks that we have to fight the government on such obvious environmental threats, but I urge you to not give up hope. Choose a cause and make it yours. Remember, just 90 companies produce the bulk of the world’s CO² and personal ‘carbon footprints’ were invented to hide this fact.
Support the Wilderness Society, Sea Shepherd, the Bob Brown Foundation or any other grassroots organisation out there with a conscience. Write a letter to your local MP, here’s a template to get you started.
If we lose these areas they’re gone forever, and no cheap electricity or economic uptick’s going to make that worthwhile. We’ve gotta protect them because they’re ours, and we sure as hell aren’t going anywhere else anytime soon.
Photos by @huntingforparadise