10 Week Old Oil Spill's Rig is Now On Fire


Photo: PTTEP ERG Media

You might recall back, in mid August 2009, when Matthew noted that an oil rig of the NW coast of Australia had sprung a leak. A rather bad leak that was expected to take some time to plug. Well, it's now November 2009, more than 70 days and four failed attempts later, the oil continues to gush into the Timor Sea, at an estimated rate of somewhere between 400 and 2,000 barrels per day. (A barrel contains 159 litres or 42 US gallons.)

But the news gets worse. On Sunday 1 November the West Atlas oil rig caught on fire, and oil company PTTEP Australasia admit they don't know how they are going to put it out. Should the rig collapse, the opportunities to plug the still leaking oil, pouring from the well bore 2.6km under the seabed, decline markedly. And the bad news keeps on coming.
Photo: Chris Twomey, via The Greens
Bob Brown, leader of the Greens in Australia, has called for the resignation of the government's Resources Minister over the 10 week catastrophe, particularly given that the he has apparently award PTTEP new drilling licenses while all this has been unfolding.

The Australian newspaper reported in mid October that over $5 million AUD of taxpayers' money has been spent at that time, to try an quell the oil spill, and yet PTTEP Australasia had only repaid the Australian Maritime Safety Authority $3.8 million.

Because such little information has been forthcoming on the environment impact of the oil spill in the Montara oil field, from either the government or the oil company, WWF Australia sent their own team to investigate.

They observe that PTTEP, the company responsible for the oil slick, reported high levels of mortality among oil- affected seabirds.

WWF's Director of Conservation Dr Gilly Llewellyn, noted that, "Clearly, wildlife is dying and hundreds if not thousands of dolphins, seabirds and sea-snakes are being exposed to toxic oil. The critical issue is the long term impact of this slick on a rich marine ecosystem, taking into consideration the magnitude, extent and duration of the event. "

"We know that oil can be a slow and silent killer. Impacts from the Exxon Valdez disaster are still being seen 20 years later, so we can expect this environmental disaster will continue to unfold for years to come."

Of particular concern is the largely remote north Australian coast line in an area known as the Kimberley. Eariler in 2009, Dr Steve Blake, Chief Executive of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI), remarked that, "Undoubtedly the Kimberley is one of the last true marine wildernesses in the world." He was commenting on the discovery that the Kimberley region is not only home to oil exploration, but what be one of the largest humpback whale nurseries in the world. Which has moved the West Australian government to look at creating a Marine Park to protect their habitat.

A Wikipedia page has been posted on the Montara Oil Spill, providing updates as they come to hand, which were almost weekly, but at the moment seems to be daily, what with PTTEP issuing media statements in a constant flurry.

More Oil
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Edward Burtynsky's Devastating "Oil" (A Slideshow)

Tags: Australia | Dolphins | Oil | Pollution

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