Australia has delayed until June 18 the release of a report into the oil blowout and spill at the Montara offshore platform in the Timor Sea last year.
The late 2009 blowout, less that one tenth the flow of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico and in much shallower water, took 73 days to kill. The Inquiry was told the oil from the blowout covered 90,000 kilometres of sea and reef – much more than the area admitted to during the spill.
WWF-Australia is asking the Australian government why its response effort to the Montara oil spill was so weak in comparison to what is happening in the US.
“We’re seeing an environmental and economic catastrophe taking place in the United States,” said Dr Gilly Llewellyn, WWF-Australia’s Manger of Conservation. “There are lots of parallels between the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the oil spill we faced last year in the Timor Sea. That is, until you compare the responses.”
“In light of the current crisis and the wholehearted response, we must ask, did the Australian Government do everything it could when faced with a similar task?”
Information which has come to come to light since the blowout has shown that 247 people worked to contain the spill and that operator PTTEP refused offers of help from nearby rigs. Information made available by PTTEP and government authorities charged with coordinating the response to the spill was limited. The company, which admitted that the wells at the Montara site did not meet their own safety standards, was given another drilling licence during the spill.
In the US, 7500 people have been mobilised in an industry-wide response to the BP spill, with President Barack Obama spearheading a US government response which has included an immediate inspection of other wells and a halt in all new offshore oil and gas exploration while the spill is dealt with and investigated. The extent of the spill can be followed in satellite imagery on a public response web site.
As the oil and gas exploration around the globe moves into more remote, more vulnerable and more technically challenging areas, industry and regulators must recognise that these same places are also making the task of avoiding accidents and responding to spills more difficult.
“What concerns WWF is that in many of these remote places such as the Arctic and coastal East Africa, there will not be a US level response to a significant oil spill. Indeed we may see less than an Australian response,” said Dr Llewellyn
“The unacceptable costs of these incidents on the environment, the economy and the community should give us even more impetus to rethink our addiction to oil.”