The Berejiklian government should intervene to stop proposed seismic testing off the Newcastle coastline that has been approved right up to the start of the annual whaling migration, environment groups say.
The federal regulator, National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, on Thursday released the summary of Asset Energy’s environment plan to resume surveying near a region where it had previously drilled for oil and gas.
The seismic survey would cover about 12.25 square kilometres, and involve the firing of a sonic gun over 6.25 metres over 208 kilometres of lines.
The permit allows for a 24-hour operation over three to four days, during a period between March 15 and May 31 this year.
Greenpeace said the plan could potentially affect as many as 22 threatened species in the region – including three that are critically endangered – in the run up to the official start of the whaling migration season off the NSW coast.
“Whales and other endangered species do not adhere to the Gregorian calendar and do not know the difference between May 30 and June 1,” Nathaniel Pelle, a senior Greenpeace campaigner, said.
“Whale sightings off the coast of Sydney are an almost daily occurrence from the second week of May, meaning there’s a high likelihood that seismic testing could impact these much loved creatures if it goes ahead at the end of the approved window,” he said.
Justin Field, Greens NSW MP and marine spokesman, said the state government should intervene to stop the testing from going ahead.
“Allowing night-time operation means it will be next to impossible to identify whale movements in the danger area of the blasts, risking threatened and vulnerable species like the southern right whale and humpback whale,” Mr Field said.
“The report accepts that fin fish are likely to suffer permanent injury and death within 70 metres of the airgun and accept temporary hearing loss is possible out to one kilometre,” Mr Field said.
Fairfax Media sought comment from Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton and NOPSEMA.
According to the plan, while there was the possibility “some whale tours may venture into the region of operation, it is unlikely that significant numbers will be encountered, especially considering that the survey will not occur during peak whale migration season”.
Asset Energy said the purpose of the seismic campaign in its Baleen zone was “to further the understanding of the shallow sub-surface geology and the potential drilling hazards over a prospect in the area of interest through the acquisition of high-resolution geophysical data”.
The exploration area extends over 4568 square-kilometres, stretching about 120 kilometres in length between Sydney and Newcastle. Water depth in “the area of interest” ranges between 125-145 metres, the company said.
Mr Field said his party would oppose both the exploration and any future plan to develop oil or gas off the state’s coast.
“We need to end the obsession with fossil fuels which is putting our planet and the environment we love and rely on at risk,” he said.