AMCS Submission

The Environmental Defenders Office NT representing the Australian Marine Conservation Society has made a submission to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority regarding a proposal in Territory waters and its potential impacts on threatened species and the environment. 

Read below for the full submission.

National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority

By email: submissions@nopsema.gov.au

 

Dear Sir/Madam

 

Barossa Area Development Proposal

ConocoPhillips Australia Exploration Pty Ltd

 

I refer to the above proposal.  We act for the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).  We have reviewed the Barossa Area Development Offshore Project Proposal Documents (the Project) and raise the following issues for consideration by NOPSEMA.

 

Background

ConocoPhilips assessment of the proposed Project is relatively thorough.  The Assessment reflects the Project’s multiple phases and the various potential impacts.  Those impacts, looked at in isolation may not reach the threshold of significant, however, when viewed together the cumulative impacts of the project are not negligible and in some cases may be significant. 

We note that an agreement has been made between Commonwealth Departments to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the petroleum activities in NT coastal waters, however the report for this study is not yet available.  Without the benefit of that SEA, we provide comments below on the proposed development under a number of subheadings.  I note that time and resourcing constraints means that the below list is non-exhaustive in terms of the potential impacts of the project that are of concern to our client. 

Impacts on important internesting areas for Flatback & Olive Ridley turtles.

 Our client is concerned about the impacts of light emanating from pipe-laying vessels on the internesting zone and critical habitat for Flatback and Olive Ridley turtles. 

The Commonwealth’s EPBC Act defines a population as “an occurrence of a species in a particular area”. Given the nesting site fidelity of marine turtles, the nesting Olive Ridley and Flatback turtles and hatchlings on the Tiwi Islands are considered under this Assessment as a population.  Olive Ridley and Flatback turtles are subject to many threatening processes in northern Australia.  Impacts in the Northern Territory include mortality from ghost nets, feral and native animal predation on nests, lighting, vessel strike, climate change impacts, habitat modification and fishing gear interactions. These impacts have the effect of limiting marine turtle’s resilience and capacity to recover. 

The impact of lighting from pipe-laying barges may affect 10s to 100s of hatchling clutches however, this potential loss in the context of existing impacts is not known.  The assessment refers to studies where marine turtles have been impacted by lighting up to 18 km from a nesting beach though the proponent regards the impacts as unlikely to have a significant impact. The pipe-laying barges are proposed to operate at 6 – 18 km from the Tiwi coast. Nesting females have the potential to be displaced from preferred nesting habitats and hatchling mortality may increase given their attraction to the project light sources and increased vulnerability to predation. The proponent has not proposed that the pipe-laying along the Tiwi region will be managed temporally to reduce impacts to nesting, inter-nesting and hatchling turtles. 

The assessment does recognise the potential impact of light emitted from pipe-laying vessels to nesting and hatchling turtles.  To mitigate this potential impact, as much as possible, our client recommends that pipe-laying activities not occur between April and September.  These are the peak periods for nesting and hatchling emergence.

 

Acoustic impacts 

An underwater acoustic survey was conducted near the proposed FPSO location. The survey detected the presence of rare species including Pygmy Blue whales, Omura’s whale, unknown beaked whales and also other odontocete species, and offshore dolphin species with a high frequency of occurrence. The proponent reports on project aspects that are likely to have acoustic impacts on marine vertebrates and invertebrates, these include drilling, pile-driving, seismic surveys, pipe-laying and operation of the FPSO. Mortality of small fish species and zooplankton are expected in close proximity to the FPSO as a result of high energy acoustic impacts from pile-driving and seismic activity, these impacts are also likely to impact marine mammals and turtles by displacing them from habitat close to the source and interfere with communication, feeding and potentially navigation. The impacts from seismic and pile-driving operations are expected to be short-term however known periods of whale migration should be avoided to reduce impacts of displacement or behavioral change.

 

Greenhouse gas emissions 

The direct link between increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and ocean acidification has been made. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority notes that while “the chemistry of ocean acidification is simple and well understood, its impact on marine life is much less well-known”. The proponent outlines their contribution of GHG emissions in Australia as 0.5 – 0.7% (2.1-3.8 Mtpa) of the GHG emissions produced in 2016.  The proponent needs to:

 

  • Explain how the impacts of ocean acidification have been taken into account, including how the precautionary principle has been operationalized for this project; and

 

  • Address Australia’s international obligations to reduce emissions and explain how the Project is justified in the face of those obligations and application of principles of ecologically sustainable development. 

 

We suggest rather than acknowledging that these gases may have a local impact but also disperse, the broader impact should be acknowledged and reduced as much as possible and also offset. 

 

Discharges

 

Operational discharges of produced water and drill cuttings from offshore oil and gas platforms are a continuous source of contaminants to continental shelf ecosystems and these can be mobilised between sites in dynamic environments. The greatest concern is linked to effects of produced water and impacts to local marine biodiversity. Monitoring programs should be rigorously designed to statistically detect change and thresholds for contamination. Contaminated water and drill cuttings will increasingly become an issue with additional proposed developments for the region, programs should be designed to reflect this. 

 

 

 

Offsets

 

The current proposal does appear to contemplate an offset strategy that accounts for impacts that cannot be mitigated.  Our strong view is that where impacts cannot be mitigated an offset strategy, with consultation with NAILSMA, the NLC and the relevant traditional owners of the affected Sea Country should be developed with the Commonwealth and NT governments.

 

Kind regards

 

Environmental Defenders Office (NT) Inc

David Morris

Principal Lawyer