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Deepwater drilling in Great Australian Bight divides the country


Potential oil exploration off the southern shore of Australia appears to have drawn mixed views from across the nation, a new study has found.

The Australia Institute has found most people believe new oil projects could help create thousands of new jobs, with 57 per cent of the 1464 people polled confirming their agreement.

Ambitious plans

The research started after Norwegian-based oil producer Equinor announced plans to start exploratory drilling for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight during late 2020.

However, it appears any potential projects would face hefty opposition with 65 per cent of respondents saying new oil and gas projects in the bight would harm the area’s fisheries, which act as a nursery for whales, seals and sharks.

“While many are hopeful that the project would bring jobs, drilling in the bight would actually create a relatively small number of employment opportunities, significantly fewer than the tens of thousands of already existing jobs that it would put at risk,” institute South Australian projects manager Noah Schultz-Byard told the Australian Associated Press (AAP).

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Big risks involved

The institute previously warned a large scale oil spill similar to BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico could wipe out about 27,000 tourism, fisheries, and aquaculture jobs in South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.

“This report shows that the economic and environmental cost of a major oil spill in the Great Australian Bight would be enormous,” Schultz-Byard said. “Equinor has already had 239 oil spills in their history and, according to their own modelling, a major incident in the Bight would cover thousands of kilometres of the Australian coastline.”

Fierce opposition

Equinor already has two exploration permits in the bight located about 500km west of Port Lincoln. Tuna farmers, cray fishers and oyster producers in the area have protested against what they claim to be a potential threat to their livelihoods.

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