Bight inquiry deadlocked

A Senate committee inquiry into oil and gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight ended in a deadlock  when a Labor senator voted with the Liberal Party in support of drilling.

The inquiry into Bight drilling plans of companies such as BP and Chevron released its 172-page report last Thursday.

South Australian senator Alex Gallacher went against his colleagues and endorsed the comments of coalition senators in the report.

They pledged support for Bight exploration projects subject to approval and oversight from National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

Labor’s recommendation was for amendments to existing laws, which would ensure consultation with stakeholders and communities and a requirement from oil proponents to publicly release oil spill modelling and emergency response plans.

The Greens and South Australian senator Nick Xenophon recommended oil and gas exploration should not proceed.

They said in the recommendations in the senate inquiry report, exploration in the Bight should not occur as it could not be conducted in a safe manner.

“Drilling in the Great Australian Bight should not proceed as it fails to meet the burden of proof required by the precautionary principle,” Mr Xenophon said.

Committee chairwoman senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Mr Gallacher had been influenced by Chevron’s donations to the South Australian and federal Labor parties.

However Mr Gallacher said his decision to vote against his own party was because of the economic opportunity for South Australia.

Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen said “imaginary” jobs swayed the two major parties.

“Both major parties however seem more interested in imaginary oil and gas industry jobs than the 10,000 real fishing and tourism jobs in South Australia’s coastal regions that would be threatened by an oil spill,” he said.

BP has withdrawn its Bight drilling plan but Chevron still has an exploration permit.