From concerns highlighted by locals during Act on Climate’s West Coast Listening Tour Road Trip, the collective jumped into helping to organise around the threat of seismic blasting in the Otway Basin.
Here’s why and how we got involved, and what our involvement has looked like so far, with our solidarity with organisations against seismic blasting ongoing until it is stopped, and sea country is safe.
Over the course of our July West Coast Listening Tour Road Trip, the Act on Climate team held a series of meetups along Victoria’s South-West coast. In line with Friends of the Earth’s commitment to grassroots action, the collective organised these events as an opportunity to consult directly with regional community members not only about the climate impacts currently affecting them, but what solutions to these problems locals want to see going forward.
From concerns highlighted by locals at meetups held on Wadawurrung, Gadubanud, and Gunditjmara Country, in Torquay, Apollo Bay, Warrnambool, and Portland, we were able to begin developing long-term campaign plans in line with community needs to support these frontline communities in their struggle to adapt to the now unavoidable climate impacts facing their regions.
Strikingly immediate among the issues discussed was, however, the looming threat of seismic blasting in the Otway basin, raised as a key issue by locals at all the meetings on the listening tour.
Early in the trip, we learned that the environment plan being put forth to Australia’s independent offshore energy regulator, NOPSEMA (National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority), by the companies seeking to blast the basin was currently open for public comment and would be until August 11.
The crew recognised this as an opportunity to, within a tight timeframe, give immediate support to communities along the coast in their struggle against seismic blasting, and quickly set to making plans to use Friends of the Earth’s existing follower base to garner as many public submissions to the environment plan as possible.
400 days of seismic blasting over 5 years over around 55,000km2
Energy data and analytics company, TGS (TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company Pty Ltd) and oilfield services company, Schlumberger NV (SLB) currently have an application underway with NOPSEMA for permission to conduct 400 days of seismic blasting over a period of 5 years over an area of approximately 55,000km2 off the South-West coast of Victoria in the Otway Basin.
This testing involves blasting the ocean floor with airguns from a ship called a ‘seismic vessel’. These blasts echo off the ocean floor back up to audio receivers that trail behind the seismic vessel on the ocean’s surface. This audio data is used to map the ocean floor and determine the location of oil, or in this case gas, deposits. The blasts can be as loud as 250 decibels and are repeated every 10-15 seconds during testing.
The following are some of the concerns expressed to Act on Climate by the community groups consulted on the listening tour:
- The highly damaging process deadens and kills marine life and disturbs animal migration patterns. It is lethal for marine life, impacting all levels of the food chain from zooplankton to whales.
- Our government is supposed to reduce gas use by 85% by 2030 to achieve met zero. Communities are already leading the way in transitioning away from gas and onto renewables. No new gas is fundamental to this process.
- As whales rely on highly sensitive hearing to communicate and navigate, the impact of blasting on local whale populations, in particular the southern right whale whose breeding grounds are located in and around the blasting area, known as koontopool in local Gunditjmarra language, would be devastating.
- The Otway Basin is whale songline country of great cultural significance to Indigenous Gunditjmara custodians who live on what is now known as Victoria’s south-west coast. Gunditjmara led organisation, SOPEC is strong and consistent in its opposition to this project. Their songlines are intrinsically connected to the birthing patterns of Koontapool, the southern right whale.
- Seismic blasting decimates seafood populations, causing mortality in small fish and reducing catch size. These stocks may take many years to recover.
Traditional custodians, fisher, surfer and coastal communities were all united in their opposition to this project going ahead.
Act on Climate joined groups such as SOPEC (Southern Ocean Protection Embassy Collective), OCEAN (Otway Coastal Environment Action Network), Ocean Warrnambool, Surfrider, Save Our Marine Life, Surfers for Climate, Australian Marine Conservation Society, Fight for the Bight Port Fairy, who were already working against seismic blasting and imploring people to send in submissions against this application.
Shared information and resources between these groups, and the amplification of each other’s campaigns formed a large part of the success of the submission drive.
Enabling people to have their say on seismic blasting in the Otway Basin: Act on Climate’s NOPSEMA submission drive
At the late stage in which the collective joined this campaign, it was very grateful for the shared resources it could use to quickly set up a submission page for public submissions to TGS and SLB’s environment plan on its website to bolster the number of submissions that would be sent in opposing this project.
To make it easy for people to have their say on seismic blasting in the Otway Basin, we provided two alternative options for engaging depending on the amount of time they could/wanted to spend on their submission.
This submission page enabled people to make either a quick submission by personalising a five-minute submission that was sent as an email blast to NOPSEMA, Madeleine King and Tanya Plibersek, or a unique high impact submission using the NOPSEMA Submission Writing Guide created by the collective.
It was heavily promoted to Act on Climate and Friends of the Earth’s supporters and followers on social media to help garner as many public submissions to the environment plan as possible.
10 days to Save Southern Sea Country social media countdown
NOPSEMA’s strict guidelines around public comment on environment plans presented some specific challenges. For example, NOPSEMA’s guidelines state that statements of fundamental opposition to oil and gas activity are considered irrelevant to their decision-making criteria. This of course robbed the campaign of one key argument, but seismic blasting causes plenty of other devastating environmental impacts, so there was still plenty of criticism to draw upon for submission. Collective members made the decision to take advantage of this to centre its social media campaign around a 10 day countdown to the submission deadline.
On August 1st the countdown was officially launched. Every day between August 1 and August 11 posts were made on Act on Climate’s Facebook and Instagram, each with a call for submissions and a different infographic about the dangers of seismic blasting. All the posts linked to the submissions page on the FoE Melbourne website, where they were encouraged to write a submission from scratch or personalise a pre-written submission.
7 key areas of concern highlighted
So that members of the public would have substantive complaints to make about the proposed blasting, in the social media campaign and the NOPSEMA Submission Writing Guide people could use to help them make a submission, the Act on Climate collective laid out seven key areas of concern summarised in dot points, namely:
- Environment/ecosystem concerns
- Fishing (commercial and recreational) concerns
- First Nations opposition
- Permit approval process
- Senate Inquiry Report
You can read more about each point in the NOPSEMA Submission Writing Guide created by the collective.
Despite concerns around the tight time frame, the team’s proactive work paid off. 1,000 submissions were made through our easy 5 min submission option alone, with this number not including the direct, more in-depth submissions enabled by our submission guide, adding to the over 30,000 submissions that were made overall due to all the incredible work of all the organisations involved.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to make a submission. The campaign to get lots of submissions opposing seismic blasting and this specific project was successful, and this campaign educated many about what and how devastating seismic blasting is.
But the fight is not over. We will continue to show solidarity with and support groups organising against seismic blasting.
For more ways to help save Southern Sea Country from seismic blasting and to keep up to date with no seismic blasting campaigns, follow:
SOPEC (Southern Ocean Protection Embassy Collective) - @s.o.p.e.c