Hundreds of people lined the shores in “Hands Across the Sand” events across southern Australia on May 21 to protest BP's plans to drill for oil in the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight. Hands are used to symbolise a barrier to oil hitting our shores. Similar events were held around the world to raise awareness of the risks posed by the offshore oil and gas industry.
Hands Across the Sand started in the United States after BP caused the world's biggest oil spill accident in 2010, when 800 million litres of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days, killing millions of fish and seabirds, 600,000–800,000 coastal birds and an estimated 75,000 dolphins and whales, and destroying thousands of people's lives and livelihoods.
Two weeks ago, Shell proved again that oil accidents are not uncommon when it spilled more than 330,000 litres of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Great Australian Bight Alliance, consisting of the Wilderness Society, Sea Shepherd Australia, Sea Shepherd UK, Surfrider Foundation Australia, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Mirning and Kokatha elders, Oil Free Seas Kangaroo Island and Clean Bight Alliance (West Coast SA), remains opposed to oil exploration in the Bight, citing risks to the marine environment.
They organised Hands Across the Sand events in Ceduna, Port Lincoln, Glenelg and Kangaroo Island in South Australia; Portland and St Kilda in Victoria; and Austinmer in New South Wales.
Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen said: “BP has no right to risk the Bight. BP should listen to the community and drop its plans to drill in the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight. If it doesn't want to listen to the Australian people, then it should listen to Australia's offshore oil and gas regulator, which has just sent back BP's plans for a second time.”
BP wants to drill four exploration wells up to 2.5 kilometres deep off South Australia's west coast, about 400 kilometres west of Port Lincoln and 340 kilometres south-west of Ceduna, but regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), has rejected BP's latest environmental plan. It can modify and resubmit the plan by the middle of July, which NOPSEMA said was a normal part of the process.
Owen said BP had put in a substandard application, despite its past record. “One would expect BP to go to great lengths to show the regulator it had learnt from the Gulf of Mexico disaster and submit an application that would far exceed the required standards. Instead it again submitted a substandard application in the hope it will be approved.”
Sea Shepherd said it would send its vessel, the Steve Irwin, to Adelaide in August before sailing around the region on an educational campaign.
Sea Shepherd official Jeff Hansen said the Bight would be at risk whatever efforts BP took. "If BP is allowed to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight, it's not a question of if there will be an oil spill but when," he said.