Oil giant BP claimed an oil spill off the Australian coast would be “socially acceptable” and even of benefit to local communities, newly released documents have revealed.
The company made the claim to environmental regulator NOPSEMA in 2016 to support its bid to drill in the iconic Great Australian Bight marine park, according to documents released to Climate Home News under freedom of information laws.
In a response to BP’s initial bid, NOPSEMA replied that it would need to remove or substantiate a number of claims, including the assertion that “in most instances, the increased activity associated with cleanup operations will be a welcome boost to local economies”.
One of the regulator’s criticisms of this argument was that BP had failed to evaluate the impact of an oil spill on tourism.
The company also reportedly claimed it had not identified any social impacts arising from the event of an oil spill and “since there are no unresolved stakeholder concerns … BP interprets this event to be socially acceptable”.
BP withdrew the bid later in 2016 after failing to satisfy the environmental regulator on 69 of 88 required criteria, the documents reportedly showed. BP told Climate Home News the cache of documents “doesn’t represent the final views of BP or the regulator” because the bid was never finalised.
According to the documents, BP’s worst-case scenario for an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight was “oiling of 650km coastline at 125 days after the spill, increasing to 750km after 300 days”.
Ceduna Mayor Allan Suter, whose town was within BP’s predicted damage zone, said it was “incredibly stupid” to claim a spill would be beneficial.
“A spill like the one that happened in Mexico would be devastating, and if there was the slightest danger of that happening then obviously the drilling wouldn’t be supported,” Mr Suter told the ABC.
South Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the company’s comments were “ridiculous”.
“I think South Australians will horrified to think that a big multinational company like BP thinks the only thing good for them is [to be] out there with some buckets and some mops cleaning up an oil slick,” she told the ABC.
“It is offensive and it is just unrealistic.”
Documents showed BP also concluded that southern right whales, which migrate within the potential spill zone, would simply change course to avoid the oil. But the regulator pointed out that BP had failed to evaluate “potential ecological consequences” from the drilling activity itself, such as on whale migration and feeding.
While BP withdrew its bid, Norwegian firm Statoil has taken over its lease of the Bight area and is pushing ahead with plans to get regulatory approval to drill an exploratory oil well in 2019.
According to Climate Home News, its freedom of information request to NOPSEMA, made in August 2016, was delayed by BP until after its commercial interest in the Bight “had cooled”.