Oil rigs poised to begin drilling in the Great Australian Bight could use faulty equipment that US regulators say is very likely to cause a “catastrophic incident” like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
With no assurances the faulty equipment can be avoided in the Bight drilling, and safety plans that probably rely on faulty equipment already approved, parliamentarians and conservationists are calling for any approvals of BP’s pending environmental plans to be halted, and its exploration licences to be suspended, until the problem has been solved.
The Great Australian Bight is a virtually pristine unique ecosystem, bounded by the world’s longest southern-facing coastline. Much of it, including the region BP proposes to drill, was included in Australia’s commonwealth marine reserve network. The federal government concluded it was a “globally important seasonal calving habitat for the threatened southern right whale”.
Assessment of BP’s Bight oil drill plan secretive and weak, Senate told
It is also a crucial foraging area for threatened Australian sea lions, threatened white sharks, tuna and migratory sperm whales. A government-commissioned report in 2003 found it was of “international significance for ecologists and conservationists”.
Around the world since 2003 enormous bolts that secure offshore oil equipment to the seafloor have been snapping in half or coming loose, with US regulators describing the problem as a “very critical safety issue” and working with industry to replace more than 10,000 of the bolts in US waters.
But in Australia, where regulators appear set to approve BP’s environmental plan – key parts of which are not available to the public – to drill in the middle of a commonwealth marine reserve, the regulator couldn’t point to any action it had taken to protect against potentially massive underwater oil spills caused by the bolt failures.
BP Australia refused to answer specific questions put to the company about the bolt failures, referring Guardian Australia instead to Diamond Offshore.
Diamond Offshore did not respond to emails or phone messages.
A spokeswoman for the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema), which regulates offshore oil and gas operations in Australia, told the Guardian the only action it had taken in relation to the issue was more than three years ago, when it requested operators to reveal whether they were using a particular batch of bolts from one manufacturer.
That appeared to be the minimum possible course of action Nopsema could take, since those particular bolts produced by GE had been subject to a global recall. But the problem has affected three different types of bolts from three different manufacturers, suggesting the issue was industry-wide or “systemic,” accordin