Skip navigation

Backgrounder on ConocoPhillips plans in South West Victoria

First they blast. Then they drill. American oil and gas giant ConocoPhillips has announced plans to explore for gas in commonwealth waters as close as 8km from the coast of Warrnambool. Before any exploration begins, the area is scheduled for a series of seismic blasting surveys, to be undertaken by CGG. Communities have until June 2023 to participate in consultations and input into the environmental impact and risk assessments. Here's what you need to know!

Regia Seismic are running information sessions for community members to receive a project briefing to help them determine if they would like to be part of the relevant persons consultation process. 
These sessions and consultations will be held jointly with ConocoPhillips Australia, who are proposing an exploration program in the Otway region.  

Seismic Blasting scheduled to start as soon as November 2023!
The seismic blasting process involves ships towing airguns that blast powerful soundwaves through the water, rock and deep into the ocean floor, between 230-250 decibels every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week often for months on end. The impacts of the noise on marine ecosystems, can kill zooplankton and immediately affect larger marine animals’ hearing and physiology and might also disrupt behaviours such as feeding, breeding or escape responses.

Communities in the South West of Victoria have already raised concerns about the possible impacts of seismic blasting on Southern Right Whale, Humpback and Blue Whale migration routes and birthing grounds, local commercial rock lobster and scallop fishing industries, the Bonney Upwelling which is vital to the survival of local marine species, and the climate impacts of mining and burning more fossil fuels. 
Image 1. Proposed seismic blasting zone off Warrnambool's coastline in southern right whale birthing waters.

Exploration and drilling
ConocoPhillips Australia is planning to undertake an exploration program in the Offshore Otway Basin, off the coast of King island and Victoria (see pictured below), subject to environmental plan (EP) approval, rig availability and commercial viability. 

ConocoPhilips are seeking to identify authorities, individuals and organisations who may have functions, interests or activities that may be affected by the proposed exploration drilling program.

Consultation is scheduled to start in April 2023, with an environmental impacts and risks assessment made available on June 2023, ahead of submitting a proposal to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) for assessment and further public comment.

Communities have until June 2023 to participate in consultations and input into the environmental impact and risk assessments.

Image 2. The exploration reserves that oil and gas company ConocoPhillips wants to drill.

How to voice your concerns:
Companies are required to consult individually and collectively with all 'relevant persons' which includes, First Nations groups, local community members, people with commercial or recreation interests or connections to the area.
  1. Friends of the Earth strongly suggests that all concerned community members register as a relevant person. To participate in consultation processes and voice your objections and concerns about the project register as a relevant person here
  2. We also suggest that concerned community members include comments on the interactive map on the Regia Seismic website here

  3. Participate in upcoming community consultations, advertised on the Regia website

    Warrnambool - Monday 29 May, 6-8pm

    Archie Graham Community Centre

    118 Timor Street, Warrnambool


    Port Fairy - Tuesday 30 May, 6-8pm

    Star of the West Hotel

    76 Sackville Street, Port Fairy


    Portland - Wednesday 31 May, 6-8pm

    Portland Yacht Club

    Lee Breakwater Road, Portland

  4. Start getting organised in your local community!

First Nations Concerns:

Gunditjmara Traditional owners, keepers of whale songlines, hold grave concerns about the impact on whale migration patterns should this gas exploration go ahead.

The Southern Ocean Protection Embassy Collective (SOPEC) is fighting to protect sacred Sea Country and they are calling for help from allies across the country to stand up support their fight.

Watch & share this video from Gunditjmara woman Yaraan Couzens-Bundle calling for support to protect Southern Sea Country.

Stand in Solidarity with SOPEC and sign the Citizens Protection Declaration to:

  • Grant immediate protection and declare a critical habitat for Koontapool/Southern Right

  • Support First Nations people who hold the solutions for caring for Country;

  • Refuse any further fossil fuel projects and demand to engage in negotiations for protection of Gunditjmara sea country.

Oil and gas exploration, seismic blasting and existing gas infrastructure along the south west coastline is already impacting Sea Country, and contributing to climate change.

Sign the Citizens Protection Declaration to stand in solidarity with First Nations communities asserting their care for Sea Country.

Community Concerns on King Island, Tasmania:

King Island has spoken. Will ConocoPhillips & the Govt respect or ignore residents’ Community Rights?

In 2021, the Wilderness Society commissioned independent polling company EMRS to conduct an island-wide survey on seismic blasting proposed by ConocoPhillips. The results included:
  • 94% oppose oil and gas exploration
  • 96% oppose seismic blasting for gas
  • 97% want a say on seismic blasting
  • 99% think the marine environment is important
In 2021, 77% of King Island residents said they weren’t genuinely consulted by ConocoPhillips' previous consultation

The King Island community held what is said to be the largest ever protest in the island’s history against ConocoPhillips’ proposed plans to seismic blast in the area, which were ultimately approved.

Read more from the Wilderness Society, here.

Gas, Climate and Economics:

Gas is uneconomic and damaging to the climate. As this project progresses, Australia faces a domestic gas shortage due largely to the export of 70% of its gas resources.

International gas prices have driven the price of gas for homes and businesses through the roof with east coast gas prices roughly quadrupling in the past two years. Meanwhile the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, backed by the International Energy Agency have stated unequivocally that the climate cannot sustain a single new gas project.

In the 2021/22 financial year fossil fuel industries alone soaked up $11.6bn public dollars. Gas companies returned a fraction of this royalties, paid near to zero tax and carried over 94% of their profits offshore.

All this destruction, expense and distress is unlikely to pay dividends. With the understandable stampede away from gas by energy users it is reasonable to assume that by the time the gas under current exploration is realised, in 2030-2035 it will be unmarketable, and all the damage of seismic blasting will have been for nothing.


About ConocoPhillips:

Total income 2020-2021: $5.7 billion AUD

Company tax paid: $0.00 AUD

Emissions: 14.9 million tonnes CO2 since 2016 – equivalent to those of over 772,800 Australians in a year

ConocoPhillips is already the largest miner of fracked coal seam gas in the country, and is now hunting for oil along the pristine and fragile coasts off Victoria and Tasmania. Since 2016, the firm has pumped almost 15 million tonnes of harmful carbon pollution into the atmosphere through its extractive activities. The corporation extracts more fossil fuel from Australia than almost anywhere else in the world, apart from the USA. Yet despite gaining enormous profits from selling Australia’s resources it contributed nothing in company tax last year. That’s $5.7 billion in revenue from Australian operations but $0 in company tax!The corporation’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuels is now threatening the livelihoods of Australians involved in more traditional industries.

ConocoPhillips’ seismic blasting program across 4,000 square kilometres of ocean around King Island in the Bass Strait is a major risk to the area’s commercial fishing sector, which is crucial to the Tasmanian economy. The corporation is also rapidly developing plans to extract oil and gas from the Otway Basin, which runs alongside the tourism magnet that is Victoria’s pristine and globally renowned Surf Coast.

ConocoPhillips claims to be working towards net zero emissions, but actions speak louder than words. Right now the corporation is spending $12 million dollars each and every day to open up new oil and gas projects that will accelerate harmful climate change.

Thanks to the Climate Council for this data.


Continue Reading

Read More