Concerns about national security and energy supply could prompt further bids to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight, the Federal Resources Minister has warned.
In his address to the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association’s (APPEA) annual conference in Adelaide on Tuesday, Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan said the Bight could play a vital role in bolstering Australia’s domestic oil supply.
Mr Canavan said Australia’s oil production had dropped to alarmingly low levels.
“We do have vulnerabilities from the fact that we don’t produce, domestically, much oil anymore,” he said.
“We used to be almost self-sufficient [and] when the Bass Strait was at its height, more than 70 per cent of our oil needs were met through domestic production.
“That has fallen away in the past couple of decades.”
The Federal Government re-issued two exploration permits abandoned by oil giant BP last year to Norwegian company Statoil.
The company is now pushing ahead with plans to drill in the Bight, outraging communities living along the pristine coastline.
Mr Canavan said allowing exploration in the Bight was as much about national security as it was economics and the environment.
“Any individual proposal for the Great Australian Bight will be properly assessed, but to just put up the white flag to say we can’t do it flies in the face of the experience we have had as a nation for nearly 50 years now in safely operating oil and gas infrastructure,” he said.
Kokatha elder Sue Haseldine said a spill would be disastrous for the Bight’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
“All those years ago my ancestors… would come out of the bush in summer [to the coast] …because the rainwater soaked into the sand dunes and there was plenty of food and water,” she said.
“They would teach their kids how to survive — that’s our culture and our teachings.
“If there’s any kind of threat to it, then there’s a threat to a whole way of life and to our culture as well, and not just to mine you know, to everybody’s,” she said.
South Australian Energy and Mining Minister Dan Van Holst Pellekaan said any applications for drilling permits would be “thoroughly” evaluated, to ensure adequate environmental protections were in place.