Heath Joske on what the coastline of The Great Australian Bight means to him, and why Equinor's imminent plan to drill there must be stopped.
It was August 2013. I'd just surfed my last heat chasing the WQS around the globe in Huntington, and my first heat against Slater. It was 2 ft, 12-15 knots onshore and he got barrelled twice and combo'd us all. I'd just spent the past 5 years travelling to the shittiest waves with 150 frothing competitors at every stop. Heading to all the sub-par waves in the busiest cities during summer holidays with high hopes of drawing crowds to the beach and very low hopes of scoring any swell. Motivation faded every year and my mind wandered to places that the crowds were not. To an idyllic lifestyle based on my own land, harvesting veggies daily, tending a flock of chooks, nurturing fruit trees and enjoying their harvest in years to come.
When I got home I travelled straight to the west coast of SA with my girlfriend who was raised there. I'd been a couple of times before, but this time it was at the end of winter. It howled onshore for 2 weeks and didn't get under 12ft. More often it was much bigger than 15ft. A horrid windswept, stormy cappuccino mess. I was blown away with the size of the swells and storms that smash the Southern Ocean through the winter. After the 2 week storm, I had a couple of classic days in solid waves and fell in love with the whole coastline and its stunning, rugged, raw beauty. The harshness of the landscape – huge limestone cliffs, empty bright white sandy beaches, granite rock pools, sweeping bays littering the coast and a lack of humans hit a chord within me. When the trip ended, I flew home to Valla Beach, packed up my CRV with a dozen of my favourite boards and drove west. It was the start of a new chapter.
A couple of years into my living on the coast, talk started spreading of BP's plans of deepwater dilling in the Bight. It was only a year after their devastating major oil spill in the gulf of Mexico and they had some nerve even applying to drill, but then they went as far as to say in the Environmental Plan that "In the case of a spill, it would be of economic benefit to the coastline". They were rejected by NOPSEMA twice, and then withdrew further plans of drilling. Now Equinor have stepped up to the pitch.
Equinor dropped their environmental plan yesterday, it's 1500 pages worth of risks and what they think will get them out of the shit. I can't believe we are still fighting for this issue. It's clearly the wrong move for southern Australia on so many levels. From risking one of the most important whale nurseries in the world to all the other millions of sea creatures that are endemic to the GAB being at risk. To our lifestyles based around this pristine coast, Our jobs fishing, ocean based tourism and when the communities start dispersing elsewhere like oil on the sea, the other jobs that have nothing to do with the sea will start crumbling. And then our planet, it's the hottest it's ever been, drought stricken and flooding and unprecedented fires globally. Our earth is hurting and the last thing it needs is another couple million tonnes of crude oil plucked from 5kms under the ocean surface to be burnt and add to our problems. All for what, a few greedy businessman in Canberra and the rest of the wealth and oil is shipped straight off shore to the other side of the globe to a country supposedly proud of their green image. @Equinor please do the right responsible thing and pull out now. Please if you have made it this far through my spiel drop a message for our friends!!??!! @Equinor
This time, the spill modelling spreads as far west as Albany and as far up the east coast as Port Macquarie. At a guess, that would have to be at least two thirds, if not more, of the surfable coastline in Australia. There are so many iconic beaches in that area, including the city beaches off Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart, as well as countless world class waves littered along the whole thousands of kilometres of coastline. The potential for such a dramatic broadscale event should be enough to squash any plans to suck more fossil fuel out of the middle of the Great Australian Bight, even if it could be done in a tried and true "safe" method of drilling.
The truth is, they are treating the Great Australian Bight, and subsequently the whole of Southern Australia's coastline, as a trial location for ultra deepwater drilling in exposed seas. The type of rig they plan to use - the MODA - has never been used before. It has been designed for these waters, but never trialled in seas anything like the Bight can dish out. It has one drill rod connecting it 2250 metres to the sea floor and then another 2kms through the floor to the oil. It is held in position with thrusters and GPS. The fact that this rig has never been used and the distances and depths we're talking about makes things going wrong a real possibility. I mean, no one gets it right first time round.
If a well blew out, it would take a minimum of 15-35 days to get a capping stack brought over from Singapore - and that’s if the weather is favourable. However, oil is predicted to hit Elliston beaches in 9.4 days and Streaky Bay in 10. In the Arctic, the US regulator has a requirement that a capping stack be within 24 hours travel time of the site. That's a big difference to 15-35 days in good weather! The remoteness of the location and the difficulty of a clean up seems to be overlooked. We all know the damage that was done in the Gulf of Mexico from a deepwater rig well blowout. The infrastructure in that area is some of the most built up in the world and they had 6,500 boats involved in a clean up that took years. We have 20 boats in South Australia suitable to operate in a clean up effort. Small communities every 50-100kms means minimal infrastructure and a very long, expensive clean up for South Australian locals.
The Adani of the south. That’s how @equinor’s oil drilling in the Bight should be seen. A month after Adelaide experienced its hottest temperature ever, and Australia its hottest ever summer, opening up a giant oil field and a giant coal mine is Australia’s reaction. Fucking brilliant! The people in charge of this country @scottmorrisonmp @mattjcan are letting the kids in this photo down badly. And @billshortenmp what do you plan to do about it mate? The @australianlabor actually drew up these Bight oil leases in 2011 so they’re just as culpable. The Federal Election is in May and the Bight needs to be an issue. Look at the spill mapping and there are marginal seats everywhere. Make some noise to your local pollie. Ask them if they think oil on local beaches will be a major boost to the local economy. This issue will make them majorly uncomfortable, but our kids and our coast deserve better than this rubbish leadership. #fightforthebight #bigoildontsurf 📷 @sa_rips
The animals who call the sea home are legendary in these waters. Monster Great Whites are frequently spotted, some of the healthiest colonies of Australian Sea Lions and New Zealand Fur Seals are dotted along the coastline, and the Southern Right Whale has its most important breeding grounds at the Head of the Bight, in some of the waters that would be hardest hit in a spill. The local dolphins are some of the friendliest in the world; they often swim with you as you paddle out the back and share sets or even barrels with you. 85% of the marine life in the Bight is found nowhere else in the world. The remote location and lack of infrastructure as well as the tail end of the Leeuwin current bless these waters with abundant marine life. Crayfish, Abalone, Oyster, Tuna and Prawns are some of the biggest fisheries in the Bight and provide great incomes for thousands of locals. All fisheries have been much more carefully managed in recent decades to sustain stocks and provide the best seafoood in the world.
To let this happen just seems so backwards and wrong in every way for the people of Australia. The money and oil will go straight to Norway, and if the slick hits the fan, the locals are left with another behemoth battle, this time living our worst nightmare: cleaning up their mess.
To get involved and lend your support to the cause You can jump on either Heath's or Sean Doherty's Instagram accounts - as seen above - they've got plenty of info on what you can do to help, and know the relevant cages to rattle.
Jump on Equinor's social media channels and make noise.
And most importantly you can email NOPSEMA and register your opposition to the project.