Plans by BP and other fossil fuel companies to drill for oil in the pristine waters off south Australia could take up a third of the country’s entire carbon budget if successful, a new report has estimated.
The Climate Analytics report, commissioned by conservation group The Wilderness Society, concluded that adding the oil from the Great Australian Bight (GAB) into the world’s energy system was “inconsistent with the global temperature and emission limits from the Paris agreement”.
Several fossil fuel firms, including Chevron and Santos, have plans to explore for oil in the GAB, but BP’s proposal to drill four exploration wells as much as 2,200 metres down on the ocean floor are the most advanced.
The report comes ahead of BP’s Annual General Meeting, taking place today in London.
Climate Analytics CEO Bill Hare, one of three authors on the report, said:
“Adding additional oil reserves to the world’s energy system, as proposed by BP, is inconsistent with the global temperature and the emission limits the Australian Government agreed to in Paris last year. It would simply create the pressure for higher emissions – unless the intention is to not meet the warming limits agreed there.
“Endeavours to add more oil to the system are therefore clearly at odds with the commitment Australia is making globally to meet its climate targets, and ultimately mean the oil will become a stranded asset.”
BP has not made public any assessments of the amount of oil that could be in its four exploration permit areas.
But the Climate Analytics report uses an assessment from smaller company, Bight Petroleum, of nine billion barrels of oil.
“Our calculations are based on a fraction of what is in this reserve: it could be four times this amount,” said Hare.
The report says nine billion barrels of oil would amount to about three gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 when burned, or nearly eight times Australia’s annual emissions.
To keep global warming to below 2C, as agreed at the Paris climate talks, the report says Australia has a CO2 emissions budget of about 9.7Gt CO2 between 2010 and 2050.
The report says:
“In other words, this fraction of the Great Australian Bight exploration programme, should it all be burned in Australia, represents sufficient carbon to bust the remaining Australian carbon budget by more than a third on its own, without consideration of fuel imports and all the other fossil fuel projects presently under development.”
Bunda Cliffs overlooking the Great Australian Bight. Photo credit: Matt Turner
BP submitted an environmental management plan to the Australian Government’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) in October 2015.
But NOPSEMA told BP its plan was not adequate and asked the company to resubmit, which BP did in March 2016.
NOPSEMA expects to make a decision by mid-May 2016. A Senate inquiry into BP’s drilling plans, looking at the environmental and social impacts, is due to report back in May just days before NOPSEMA’s scheduled judgement.
Greens Senator for South Australia, Robert Simms, asked that BP shareholders should “raise concerns” at the company’s AGM today.
Senator Simms said: “BP shareholders should be concerned that their company is willing to risk an environmental catastrophe in the Great Australian Bight.”
“The Greens call on BP shareholders to pressure the company at their AGM in London later today to ditch this inconsiderate plan which puts South Australia’s tourism and fishing industries at grave risk.”
Protesters with the Great Australian Bight Alliance have also staged a mock oil spill outside BP’s Melbourne HQ this week.
Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen said: “We are here to tell BP it has no right to risk the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight, and that the opposition to its plans is growing in Australia and around the world.”
Sea Shepherd Australia Managing Director Jeff Hansen said the GAB was a “global marine treasure.”
The GAB’s pristine waters, Hansen said, were home to critical whale and sea lion nurseries as well as providing a home for dolphins, seals, orcas, great white sharks and sea birds, including albatross and the white-bellied sea eagle.
“The Bight is littered with state and federal marine parks. One of BP’s leases even takes in a Commonwealth marine reserve.
“The Great Australian Bight is backed by the longest line of sea cliffs in the world, stretching hundreds of kilometres and reaching 60 metres high, the height of a 20-storey building, making it even more difficult for any clean-up operations if there was a spill.
“And the impact would be long lasting. Six years after the Gulf of Mexico disaster, its impacts are still being felt today, with dead marine life still washing up on beaches, dolphins unable to reproduce and people getting sick while local tourism, fishing and other businesses have not recovered.”
Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen said: “We want to remind people that BP was the company responsible for the world’s biggest oil spill accident, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in 2010, when 800 million litres of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days.
“BP totally stuffed up in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Now BP wants to drill in the deeper, more treacherous and more remote waters of the Great Australian Bight. You have got to be kidding. BP has not even released detailed oil spill modelling. It claims an oil spill will last only 35 days even though the Macondo well spewed billions of litres of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days.”
He said an oil spill in the GAB would be “devastating” for South Australia’s $442 million fishing industry and its tourism industries in coastal regions, which he said were worth more than AU$1 billion employing 10,000 people full-time.
Main image: Protestors outside BP‘s Melbourne HQ in Australia. Credit: Aaron Stevenson / Sea Shepherd Australia