Conservationists slam NOPSEMA decision to allow seismic blasting for controversial Scarborough gas project

Conservation Council of WA

The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) has reacted with alarm over approvals granted to the highly controversial Scarborough gas proposal, which would allow Woodside to use under water seismic blasting in an area of endangered whale habitat.

On Monday the Australian National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) approved plans by Woodside to carry out seismic blasting for up to 80 days off Western Australia’s Pilbara coast as part of its Scarborough gas plans.

What is seismic blasting?

Seismic blasting involves firing high powered compressed air cannons at the ocean floor in order to identify oil and gas reserves through the sound produced. These blasts are so powerful that they penetrate deep into the seabed and occur every 10-15 seconds, sometimes for months at a time. According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society, the noise generated by these blasts can reach 250 decibels – 1,000,000 times more powerful than the loudest sound a whale is capable of making.

Seismic blasting can kill or injure any marine animals in the vicinity, with even microscopic zooplankton – the basis of the ocean food chain – at risk of death. The noise can damage the hearing of whales and deter them from visiting areas where seismic blasting is taking place, which can coincide with breeding and feeding grounds. We cannot be certain what damaging psychological effects seismic blasting has on marine life, but we do know that animals like whales and dolphins rely on sound to communicate and find their way in the vast oceans.

NOPSEMA decision ‘enormously disappointing’

Woodside’s Scarborough gas project has been widely criticised by scientists and environmental campaigners as one of Australia’s most polluting planned fossil fuel sites. The proposal has been subject to no fewer than three high-profile legal challenges, both in the Supreme Court of Western Australia and the Federal Court.

CCWA Fossil Fuels Program Manager, Anna Chapman, said that the decision to approve seismic blasting was ‘enormously disappointing’.

“Scarborough does not have public support”, she said.

“This is an export-first, profit-driven fossil fuel proposal where both the gas and most of the profit will be sent overseas. West Australians have nothing to gain from Scarborough going ahead, but our state’s iconic and endangered species have so much to lose.

“The more we discover about the impacts of seismic blasting on marine life, the more it becomes clear that this is a highly invasive and distressing process for whales, dolphins, turtles and other creatures.

“This is a poor decision by NOPSEMA which will directly endanger species which it is duty-bound to protect. This latest misstep is another sign that our nature laws must be strengthened to protect vulnerable species in Commonwealth waters.”

/Public Release.