The Gippsland Basin in South East Australia is a hot spot for oil and gas resources. Australia’s first oil field was discovered at Lake Bunga, Lakes Entrance in 1924. More than 20 pieces of oil and gas infrastructure sit on the seafloor in eastern Bass Strait connected by numerous pipelines that return precious resources to land through Orbost, Seaspray and Longford.
The area is also one of Australia’s richest fishing grounds given the mixing of the East Australian Current with waters from Bass Strait and the large continental shelf that drains into the abyss through many small canyons into the enormous Bass Canyon. Most of the fishing vessels accessing these resources do so from the small Victorian town of Lakes Entrance.
The oil and gas industry use seismic surveys to locate reserves of fossil fuels. They produce detailed images of local geology to determine the location and size of possible reservoirs. Very strong sound waves are bounced off underground rock formations with the waves that reflect back to the surface captured by recording sensors for analysis later. An ABC animation shows graphically how seismic surveys work and extend up to 50 kms into the earth.
Recent research off Tasmania has shown that seismic surveys can kill scallops and zooplankton and have negative long term effects on crayfish. Fishermen across the world report reduced catch rates that can last up to a year after a survey is completed.
The fishing and oil/gas industries have a history of co-existence and the fishing industry is proud that it has been a good neighbour for more than 40 years. It would be hypocritical for the fishing industry to behave otherwise given the modern world’s reliance on fossil fuels – albeit with the environmental costs we now understand.
Peter Clarke is a former SETFIA Director, he is now retired after handing the reins of the family vessel Kendean to his son Stuart. Peter explained to the newsletter how in 1965 as a 14 year old crew member on his Father’s fishing vessel they would regularly deliver supplies to Esso vessels.
Rather than fight all oil and gas development SETFIA has worked hard to assist the oil and gas industry to minimise their impact on the fishing industry and to minimise the risk that fishing vessels present to oil and gas infrastructure. SETFIA’s clients have included Cooper Energy, Esso (Exxon), Tasmanian Gas Pipelines, 3D Oil, Geoscience Victoria, Geoscience Australia and many others. SETFIA has become skilled at requesting and analysing fisheries data, while maintaining fishers’ confidentiality, so that oil, gas and now seismic survey companies can understand the fishermen that might be present, when they will be there, and how they work. In partnership with the fishing industry they can then try to find ways to change the timing, sequence or footprint of exploration activities to reduce effects. Warning fishermen also gives them time to move elsewhere.
French company CGG has announced plans to undertake a seismic survey covering 18,000km2 in the Gippsland Basin – the biggest survey ever seen. The survey will affect around one third of the fish going into the Melbourne and Sydney fish markets. The Lakes Entrance Danish seine fleet will have almost all its grounds exposed to this seismic survey. This means that they seine fleet will have no-where else to go. Stuart Clarke, now a third generation fisher, explained to the newsletter his concerns about whether his business can withstand the short term displacement and the decline in catch rates that could last for more than a year after the survey.
Member for East Gippsland MLA Tim Bull made speech in Victorian Parliament last week raising concerns about CGG’s plans.
SETFIA has always been able to find a way to move fishing vessels elsewhere and to minimise seismic surveys effects on the fishing industry. However, CGG’s proposal is huge covering entire fisheries and will displace the fleet for five months.
This is why SETFIA is calling on the federal oil and gas regular NOPSEMA to understand that the fishing industry in south east Australia cannot withstand a survey of this size and duration and to not approve this survey.