NO to seismic blasting in Victoria's Otway Basin

NO to seismic blasting in Victoria's Otway Basin

Extinction Rebellion Australia, 19 Sept 2023

Why are we looking for new gas when our future depends on not using it? XR Vic Rebels brought whale song to the streets of Melbourne/Naarm, protesting the threatened seismic blasting as part of a global ‘Fight Fossil Fuels’ day of action.

The Whale song rally was led by Gunditjmara woman Yaaran Bundle and people from Otways Sea Country. It was organised by allies of the Victorian coast and Extinction Rebellion as part of the global Fight to End Fossil Fuels Day of Action.

The rally was in support of Southern Ocean Protection Embassy Collective (SOPEC) and the Gunditjmara First Nations Peoples Ocean defenders in their fight to protect Sea Country. All photos on this page are by JulianMeehan.

The Whale Song rally moving through Naarm/Melbourne's CBD
The Whale Song rally moving through Naarm/Melbourne's CBD

The route took protesters past the William Street offices of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) the regulator for health and safety, well integrity and environmental management for offshore oil and gas activities in Commonwealth waters and in coastal waters. NOPSEMA is the agency that will make the decision on behalf of the federal government as to whether or not the seismic blasting proposal will go ahead.

Yaraan Couzens Bundle (see main photo above) convenor of the Southern Ocean Protective Embassy Collective (SOPEC) and a whale dreaming custodian of the Gunditjmara nation spoke to the rally about the whale dreaming songline and what it means to protect it. She said that it means challenging international gas companies and the state and federal government that want to carve up Gunditjmara sea country - whale songline country - for profit.

Meanwhile, the State government gets royalties as part of every new gas well that is approved.

Yaraan said that one of the companies that want to keep destroying our Southern Ocean got pulled up for 2019/20 seismic blasting over a dump site for WWI and WWII chemical and artillery weapons in the Southern Ocean. It remains unknown, despite inquiries, what impact these blasts had on the canisters of chemicals.

Yaraan Couzens Bundle singing at the Whale Song Rally
Yaraan Couzens Bundle singing at the Whale Song Rally

Yaraan came to the rally with her sons and daughters; the next generation of Gunditjmara Whale custodians. She said "the whale songline is highly regarded among the Gunditjmara nation who are salt water and fresh water people. If the whale songline is destroyed through greed, that's a co-extinction story for everybody.

"I want them to know - all those international gas companies that don't pay any tax - I want them to know that it's not happening on our watch.

"If we don't fight this, the whole Gunditjmara coastline is up for industrialisation. NOPSEMA can't possibly measure the environmental damage the blasting will cause. Consultation is not consent!" she said.

Lisa Deppeler from Otway Climate Emergency Action Network (OCEAN) described the situation.

She said that gas is a fossil fuel we need to transition away yet seismic blasting exploration for gas is proposed over 55,000 sq km of the Otway Basin, off the coasts of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. This area is a whale migration and calving area. The 250 decibels blasts – louder than the Hiroshima bomb – every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end will inevitably cause whales hearing loss. This will damage their echolocation navigation and ability to survive; a deaf whale is a dead whale.

Lisa Deppeler from OCEAN speaking at the Whale Song rally
Lisa Deppeler from OCEAN speaking at the Whale Song rally

The blasting kills many other forms of marine life, from tiny zooplankton one kilometre or more away, to scallops and crayfish. Many creatures begin life as zooplankton. so when we kill zooplankton it has an impact on many forms of life.

A tide moves across these waters in an East and West direction, at 4 to 5 knots. The blasts will be killing zooplankton in a radius of over one kilometre, so the tide will be acting as a conveyor belt, feeding more zooplankton. So there will be vast rivers at least 1.2km wide that are depleted of zooplankton - whale food.

XR Blue Rebels represented sea creatures at the rally
XR Blue Rebels represented sea creatures at the rally

The blasts will damage or kill anything within the impact zone. Any scuba divers within 15km of the seismic shift will have their hearing damaged. If you're directly within the impact zone, your internal organs will explode. Animals further away will be damaged less, but may not be able to feed correctly afterwards, or protect themselves from predators.

The blasting will affect Southern Right whales, Blue whales, Humpback whales by impacting their feeding, their breeding or their migration. Lucky ones might be able to get out of the way. But whales that are confused often swim towards a seismic blast, not away. During the 2020 seismic blast in the Otway Basin, a whale mother and calf popped up 40m from a marine ship.

Lisa described the blasting projecta as "crazy". Multinational companies TGS and SLB (formerly Schlumberger) want to seismic blast 5.5 million hectares of the Otway Basin - a massive area. It's almost the size of Tasmania. It goes 200km out to sea, and is 5.5km in depth. It will be decades before they could harvest gas from this sort of depth.

Protesters at the rally carried giant banners
Protesters at the rally carried giant banners

Recently OCEAN did a Freedom of Information search on Schlumberger, the company that carried out the 2020 seismic blast (then one that Yaraan referred to, that went over the gun site). They're currently under criminal investigation with the Department of Public Prosecution for that seismic blasting that that paid no attention to the environmental plan.

Lisa said "They're cowboys, doing whatever they like - out of sight and out of mind. We could write the best environmental plan, but it won't matter because NOPSEMA isn't watching them."

There's every chance that the TGS, SLB/Schlumberger proposal could kick off before Christmas.

99% of Australians don't know about it. And that's been quite intentional. This is the first time that it's really been in the public arena. People need to know what is going on out in our oceans. Killing whales and other sea creatures for the sake of digging up more gas is a climate crime!

Everybody will need to support us to stop this project. Go to the OCEAN websiteand get involved!

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