2011 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release Targets More WA Biodiversity Hotspots

UPDATE: Coverage of this issue on ABC’s PM Program: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2011/s3188335.htm

The 2011 acreage release has extended the strangehold of oil and gas companies over WA’s waters, and brought future exploration and drilling closer to more of the West Coast’s many biodiversity hotspots.

A new lease has extended the oil industry into waters close to the Abrolhos Islands, and further reinforced drilling areas offshore from Ningaloo Reef, and brought oil drilling much closer to Shark Bay.  Last years release brought the prospect of drilling to the Margaret River region, sparking a year of protests in that community.

The map of new acreage releases is here.  It doesn’t show last years release offshore from Margaret River and Kangaroo Island.

More than a quarter of WA’s waters are now covered by oil lease, yet less than one percent remains protected.

These new leases create a conflict for the Government between their aggressive expansion of oil into sensitive areas, and their 2010 election commitment to protect WA’s marine life in a network of marine sanctuaries.

With just weeks to go till draft maps are release for public consultation in the South West, the release of the largest tranche of new oil leases in a decade is an insult to that process.

Much more needs to be done before the Government can argue they are responsibly balancing resource development with environmental protection in Australia’s biodiversity rich oceans.

Acreage is not an oil lease as such, but represents an ‘invitation’ from the Government for companies to bid to explore the area.   Once a company bids, it can be turned into an oil lease and there is a legal condition for the company to begin exploration activities, usually including drilling, or lose the lease.

The Squid is not aware of an application to turn acreage into a lease ever having been turned down on environmental grounds.  A lease of Ningaloo was argued against for years by conservation groups with the lease owner arguing they would probably never drill, now they are applying to drill at the same time as the Ningaloo world heritage nomination is proceeding, with a sizable  public backlash.

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