Opening image: The area marked for seismic blasting (outlined, south of Portland) would make this the largest 3D seismic blasting survey ever done in Australian waters.


It’s hard to believe a proposal so huge and so destructive could slip through so quietly, and yet here we are.


Unless you’ve been paying close attention over the past two weeks, you might have missed the official announcement of a plan to conduct Australia’s largest ever 3D seismic blasting survey off the Tasmanian, Victorian and South Australian coasts.


The area of ocean set to be blasted is enormous, stretching from King Island and northwest Tasmania right across Victoria’s Otway coast to the South Australian border.


The proposal is being put forward by multinational oil and gas exploration companies TGS and Schlumberger and plans to blast an area of 5.5 million hectares – an area almost as big as Tasmania – over the course of four years, searching for gas deposits under the sea floor.


The vast blasting area includes critical marine ecosystems, two marine national parks, and blue whale migration routes.

The blasting survey area includes critical and rare blue whale habitat. “Seismic blasting can have a devastating impact on whales and other marine life,” says Louise Morris. “This barrage of noise can cause hearing loss and disturb essential behaviours such as navigation, communication, feeding and breeding.” Photo courtesy AMCS

“Offshore oil and gas exploration is dangerous even before a well is sunk,” offers Louise Morris of the Australian Marine Conservation Society. “Seismic blasting is deadly for marine life and can impact all levels of the food chain from its very foundations, killing zooplankton more than a kilometre away, to deafening whales. Marine life will be bombarded by 220-250 decibel explosions of sound – louder than a bomb blast – every 10-12 seconds for several months.”

"Research indicates seismic surveys also have significant impacts to ecologically and commercially valuable species, including zooplankton, scallops, crayfish and cetaceans," adds Surfrider Australia’s Annie Ford, a marine biologist. "But research is limited, with very few species studied. The more we learn, the worse the impact appears to be."

The TGS/Schlumberger blasting proposal is the first step in developing the area into offshore gas fields, which would then operate for decades, potentially producing millions of tonnes of carbon pollution over that time. How these fit into the federal government’s net zero target by 2050 is anyone’s guess.

As with all offshore oil and gas development in Australia, the approval process for this seismic blasting plan is being kept at arm’s length from the public.

The official environment plan for the TGS/Schlumberger seismic blasting program was lodged on July 12 with the offshore oil and gas regulator, NOPSEMA. The reason you may not have heard about it, is that by law, the companies are only obligated to notify the public via the classified section of a relevant newspaper. Once lodged, the public has only 30 days to comment on the 1400-page plan. That clock is ticking right now, and the public comment period closes on August 11.

The process for the public to comment on this environment plan has strict guidelines. Comments need to refer to the technical aspects of the environment plan, while the company’s claims are difficult to challenge without expert scientific advice. Fortunately, both AMCS and Surfrider have online forms and advice for people to make valid submissions to NOPSEMA that can be produced easily and quickly.

The planned blasting area is immense, stretching all the way from the South Australian border east to King Island, pictured here. Photo Ed Sloane

Back in 2019, over 30,000 people submitted comments to NOPSEMA against the plan to develop the Great Australian Bight as an offshore oil field.

This public comment period is just the first step in the fight against this historically destructive plan, and community groups along the coast are already preparing for the next round.

“Now this project is even closer to us, with a community that strongly opposes it – we will proudly paddle out and do whatever it takes to stop this,” says Surfrider Surf Coast’s Darren Noyes-Brown. “The community has everything to lose and nothing to gain if this project goes ahead, not discounting the bigger picture that Australia can never make any meaningful contribution to climate action while the gas industry continues to expand.”

The Australian Marine Conservation Society has a guided submission email you can send directly to NOPSEMA. You can find it here.

Opening image: The area marked for seismic blasting (outlined, south of Portland) would make this the largest 3D seismic blasting survey ever done in Australian waters.


God Creates Dinosaurs. God Destroys Dinosaurs. God Creates Man. Man Destroys God. We Create Roaring Journals.