Making waves

Thousands of climate activists, surfers and passionate coastal residents have taken to the water for a board meeting of a different kind at Torquay’s main beach. 

Surfers turn their boards into protest signs. Photo: Zara Cuthbertson

The Australian Surfrider Foundation hosted a mass paddle out event on Saturday, March 23, to raise awareness of a proposal by Norway-based Geophysical Company TGS-NOPEC to seismic survey 5.5 million hectares of ocean and seafloor between northern Tasmania and the South Australian border. 

Geoscience Australia defines seismic surveying as a geophysical technique that involves generating vibrations, known as seismic waves, that penetrate the Earth’s surface to locate offshore gas and oil reservoirs for energy consumption and carbon capture storage.  

But climate activists such as 22-year-old Mitch Pope, a member of the Otway Coastal Environment Action Network (OCEAN), argue there’s a darker side to the process. 

OCEAN is a network of community groups based along the southwest Victorian coastline from Ocean Grove to Portland, who often participate in events such as the Surfriders’ paddle out, as part of a larger mission to combat climate change. 

“Seismic blasting is harmful to marine life; new gas threatens our climate, so we’re here to take a stand against this new project,” Mitch said. 

“The seismic project we’re campaigning against at the moment hasn’t been approved yet, so we’re still making some noise about the fact that we don’t want this to go ahead.” 

Mitch said the aim of Saturday’s paddle out was to attract attention to the proposal to help make changes before the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) delivers a final decision on the project. 

“Once people find out about what seismic blasting is, they’re generally horrified, or will ask what they can do to help out or how we can stop it, and so we’re hoping we can have more of an impact on this project and on the decisions that are made,” he said. 

But Australian Energy Producers, the country’s peak body for gas and oil, wants to reassure Aussies that seismic projects like the one proposed by TGS are a vital component of “keeping Australia’s lights on”. 

“For more than half a century, this strictly regulated and safe exploration method has delivered reliable energy for millions of Australian homes and businesses,” chief executive Samantha McCulloch said.  

“With energy shortfalls forecast across Australia in coming years, finding and developing new gas supply is critical to keeping the lights on and backing up renewables in electricity generation.  

“As well as energy and emission reduction, these projects deliver new investment and jobs into regional communities and produce billions of dollars of revenues for governments to help them fund public services and infrastructure.” 

EnerGeo Alliance, the global trade alliance for energy geoscience companies, of which TGS is a governing member, says geoscience work is as critical for identifying potential resources of oil and natural gas as it is for siting alternative energy projects, such as offshore wind turbines. 

“Seismic surveys have been used for decades around the world with no evidence of harm to the marine environment,” Asia-Pacific representative Simon Molyneux said. 

“Over 2000 seismic surveys have been conducted in Australian waters since the 1960s, with no evidence of the impacts many opponents have claimed as likely. 

“The energy evolution relies on access to energy geoscience data, and this technology is essential for making informed decisions about the future of energy and our planet.” 

Mr Molyneux said the energy geoscience industry was proud of its “long and strong track record” of operating “safely, sustainably, and successfully” in local waters.  

But environmentalists such as Mitch, who attended Saturday’s paddle out, say there’s nothing to be proud of. 

“The climate is changing, and it’s because we’re burning fossil fuels, and the science says that we can’t approve any more fossil fuel projects if we’re to limit warming to a safe level,” he said. 

“Despite that, the fossil fuel industry and governments are continuing to do things they shouldn’t be doing.” 


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