Despite all the rhetoric on climate change, both the NSW and federal governments consider it acceptable to allow seismic testing and drilling to explore for gas and potentially oil off Australia's east coast.
Despite the potential to develop entire new industries in clean, renewable energy, governments will not or cannot break their addiction to fossil fuels. They have literally placed the entire offshore Sydney Basin on the market for fossil fuel extraction; an area of 6000km², extending from Wollongong to Port Stephens.
Advent Energy and its subsidiary, Asset Energy, have been granted access to this area and have now applied to conduct the first drilling off the coast of Newcastle, only 55km from the shoreline and 27km from the Port Stephens coast.
The rig, Ocean Patriot, is to be in place in late October and drilling is to commence in early December for about 30 days. Should they determine it is viable, there will be potentially dozens of these rigs and drill sites up and down the east coast.
As a direct response to this threat, a coalition of concerned community members and environment groups was formed. Hands Off Our Coast (HOOC) has been successful in obtaining extensive, local media coverage of what had been “secret mining business”, under the radar of both the media and affected communities.
Asset and some local politicians have said Australian safety standards are such that an accidental spill or underwater rupture is a remote possibility. However, extreme weather events occur within this region, including the infamous East Coast Low that resulted in the legendary June 2007 storm that grounded the bulk carrier MV Pasha Bulka on Newcastle’s Nobbys Beach.
Asset has not and will not release its Environment Plan and Oil Spill Contingency Plan unless it is forced to by a change in legislation. The company appears very reluctant to engage with the broader community — it has restricted itself to the mandated “community consultative committee”, which is by invitation only.
The community has not been genuinely consulted and HOOC’s primary objective is to ensure this proposal remains in the public forum and to ask all politicians why they continue down the fossil fuel path. Indeed, the barriers to clean, renewable energy reaching base load power are not technological, they are political.
[Phillipa Parsons is a Greens councillor on Lake Macquarie council. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org .]