Deep Shell well proposal a risk to noted Australian reef



Posted on 08 March 2011  | 
Perth, Australia: Noted Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia and "a blue superhighway" for migrating whales, dolphins and turtles could be devastated by accidental discharges from a deep water exploratory well proposed by oil major Shell.

The well, proposed for mile (1.6 km) deep waters 50 km from the World Heritage nominated Ningaloo Reef poses unacceptable risks, WWF-Australia warned today.

WWF-Australia Conservation manager Gilly Llewellyn said it was inappropriate for the Federal Government to consider Shell’s proposal before the regulatory overhaul recommended by the inquiry into Australia's last major oil spill.

The blow-out at the Montara exploratory well, in the Timor Sea to the north of Ningaloo, covered more than 90,000 sq kilometres of ocean in the 73 days it took to kill the well. The report, delayed while the even bigger blowout in the Gulf of Mexico captured world attention, found serious shortcomings by both operators and regulators.

“Ningaloo is a stunning marine park and the waters between it and the proposed well are home to a blue superhighway that literally provides a migration route for whales, dolphins and turtles,” Dr Llewellyn said.

“The Coral Coast is also an important area for tourism and commercial fishing in Western Australia, with potential risks to those industries.

“The Montara and Gulf of Mexico disasters demonstrated that drilling accidents can happen to even the biggest companies in the business, and that deep water drilling compounds the challenges of fixing a disaster.

“Shell’s own spill modeling from a blow-out scenario not only reveal impacts to Ningaloo Reef but to neighbouring islands and coastal waters.”

Reviews conducted around the world following the Deepwater Horizon disaster commonly conclude the oil industry has essentially been allowed to write the rule book for its own operations.

Even the Australian Government review of the Montara incident called for the creation of a new national regulatory and oversight authority, to come into effect in January 2012.

The Shell proposal follows BP’s announcement of plans to conduct seismic exploration with a view to drilling in the Great Australian Bight marine park. This would result in more deep-water drilling in areas exceptionally rich with marine wildlife, including whales and southern blue fin tuna.

“Important areas for marine wildlife need to be protected by marine parks and not left open for oil and gas activities. Both Shell and BP’s applications need to be suspended until a national system of marine parks is in place and there is stronger regulatory oversight,” said Dr Llewellyn.

“With the potential for yet another oil spill disaster, there is too much at stake.”
  • Shell’s Palta-1 exploration well proposal  
    As depicted by Shell’s own modeling, a worst-case scenario could result in a Montara-sized oil spill covering a  significant area off the WA coast (pg 26).  Of note are the red and orange areas around Ningaloo Reef and all down the Coral Coast – an important commercial fishing zone for Western Australia. 

For more information:
  • Dr Gilly Llewellyn, WWF-Australia Conservation Manager, 0406 380 801,
  • Paul Gamblin, WWF-Australia Conservation Director WA, 0410 221 508,
  • Cortlan Bennett, WWF Media Officer WA, 0404 700 001,

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