Oil drilling proposals for the Great Australian Bight could be subject to a more rigorous assessment process if an amendment bill tabled by Independent Senator Tim Storer late last month is passed.
The concerns raised by the fishing and tourism and industries when they met with Senator Storer earlier this year have partially driven the bill.
“I am skeptical that any oil company would have the capacity to fairly compensate the entire fishing and tourism industry in the case of an oil spill in the Bight, which would be likely to lead to losses to the tune of billions of dollars every year for South Australia,” Senator Storer said.
The bill provides for a two-stage assessment process for any proposed petroleum or gas activity in the Bight.
If the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority approves an action in the Bight, then the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) review processes would kick-in, with the final decision being made by the minister.
Senator Storer said the requirements surrounding ministerial decision making were far more stringent than those for NOPSEMA alone.
“This would not give the minister free rein to make a unilateral decision, far from it,” he said.
“The bill would give the Bight the respect it deserves.”
He said before the minister made a decision, the second stage assessment would involve an environmental impact statement or, in suitably unusual cases, public inquiry, as outlined in the EPBC Act.
Senator Storer said assessment under the act would provide fairer balance of environmental, social, economic and safety considerations by ensuring adequate public consultation and social license; increase transparency and accountability in the decision-making process; strengthen powers of review by extending the definition of persons aggrieved who could challenge an approval; and ensure penalties for non-compliance were appropriately broad and strict.
“There are serious, possibly irreversible consequences of an oil spill for economic, environmental, health and social lives intertwined with the Bight,” he said.
“That high-stakes context should be properly and fairly taken into account when assessing applications for petroleum or greenhouse gas activity in the Bight.”