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Drilling in the Bight? Don't believe big oil's spin

Opinion

Why are the Labor and Liberal parties doing the bidding of an overseas oil giant? South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the major parties are ignoring the risks of drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

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While foreign oil giant Equinor blankets South Australia with its spin, the fact remains that South Australians do not want drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

We are a proud state, with a long and beautiful coastline. Our fishing industry relies on the health of the ocean off our shores, with our delicious tuna and seafood loved by South Australians, the rest of the country and the world.

We have a thriving tourism industry, with people coming from all over the world to enjoy the best that SA has to offer, from the jewel in our crown, Kangaroo Island, to the farthest reaches of the Bight. South Australians know how precious our Bight is: we know that drilling in the middle of a whale sanctuary is madness.

In the case of an oil spill, South Australians have everything to lose. Industry modelling shows a worst-case spill would cost the economy $158 billion, while Equinor’s own modelling puts it at $86 billion. With tens of thousands of jobs based in the Bight, a spill would decimate South Australia’s economy for decades. And when we are already seeing the effects of climate change, the last thing we need is another oilfield.

Last year, the United Nations released a report from leading climate scientists who warned we must phase out of fossil fuels if we are to reduce the impact on harmful climate change. That means we cannot open up new fossil fuel basins. In Senate estimates last year, the Government confirmed that any commercial production of oil would be a decade away.

With a bit of ambition and political will, we could spend the next decade working to ease our reliance on fossil fuels. This project is being used by the Morrison Government as an excuse not to invest in technologies that will lead to a cleaner planet. The climate change risk of burning millions more of barrels of oil is insurmountable. And any possibility of an oil spill makes drilling in the Bight not worth the risk.

Documents obtained under freedom of information last year show that BP considered an oil spill a ‘welcome boost’ for local communities. Chevron, the next oil giant to shelve plans to drill in the Bight, gloated they would be able to write-off the costs of an oil spill on tax. At the time they already owed Australian taxpayers $340 million. We’ve seen industry modelling that shows oil could be washing up on Sydney beaches. Equinor believes in a best-case scenario, it could have a spill capped in 15 days. In that time, Kangaroo Island’s pristine beaches would be engulfed in oil.

Big oil insists their technologies are perfectly safe, that they are using best practice. And while they make glossy advertisements and talk up their commitment to the community, we will not have the wool pulled over our eyes. We know what they actually care about is their profits – which, by the way, would all go offshore. Last week, when Resources Minister Matt Canavan said some of the Bight’s oil would be refined in Australia, Equinor themselves rebuked him. We will not put our environment and our tourism and fishing industries at risk to aid a foreign company whose profits, and oil, will not stay in Australia.

The Labor and Liberal parties want to risk all we love about the Bight to do the bidding of the oil and gas industry. They are ignoring the evidence, and the majority of South Australians who want World Heritage protection for the Great Australian Bight.

We cannot risk the Bight for big oil’s overseas profits, no matter what spin Equinor tries to put on it.

Sarah Hanson-Young is an Australian Greens Senator for South Australia and the party’s environment spokesperson.

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