Concern over plan for seismic test off the coast of Newcastle

From above: Satellite image of the area of the NSW east coast where seismic testing is proposed. Picture: National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority
From above: Satellite image of the area of the NSW east coast where seismic testing is proposed. Picture: National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority

A plan to send acoustic pulses into the ocean floor near Newcastle has environmental and commercial fishing advocates on edge.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) has asked Asset Energy to resubmit an application to conduct marine seismic testing over three to four days on a 12.25 square-kilometre patch off the NSW east coast.

In response to Asset Energy’s application, NOPSEMA said it was “not reasonably satisfied that the environment plan meets the criteria” of regulations.

Marine seismic tests are used in oil and gas exploration and involve sending acoustic pulses into rock layers under the ocean floor.

The characteristics of the returning sound waves, as well as the time it takes them to travel back, paint a picture of what is underground.

Professional Fishermen’s Association executive officer Tricia Beatty said the PFA had asked for a copy of Asset Energy’s environmental plan, but had not received it.

Ms Beatty said the waters off Newcastle and the Central Coast were “extremely viable and profitable commercial fishing ground”.

“We have enough research that’s been recently conducted to show that there would be an impact especially on benthic invertebrates, which is the beginning of our food chain, and it would have an impact on commercial fishing,” she said.

A NOPSEMA spokesperson told Fairfax Media the agency made “merit-based decisions” and considered the potential impact of activities on the local environment, tourism, fishing and other industries.

NSW Greens marine and fisheries spokesperson Justin Field said the tests posed an unacceptable risk for ocean habitats and marine wildlife.

“I’m told by fishers that previous seismic testing left seabeds damaged and resulted in drops in fish catch for weeks, impacting on local businesses,” he said.

“There are also serious questions about the safety of seismic guns on the hearing and navigation of migrating whales.”

Asset Energy is a subsidiary of Advent Energy, which has previously sought to conduct seismic tests off the east coast.

Asset Energy director Tobias Foster said the proposed survey was one of the smallest that NOPSEMA had ever considered.

He said the seismic noise was expected to be about five per cent the volume of a typical source.

“As such, our potential impacts on commercial fishing and the environment are incredibly low,” Mr Foster said. 

“The effect of NOPSEMA’s request for us to modify and resubmit our environment plan implies that the survey is now likely to be undertaken outside the known peak whale migration periods. 

“A very similar survey was undertaken in 2010 prior to the drilling of the first ever offshore NSW exploration well. Information provided to Asset Energy has implied that no adverse impacts were observed or reported as a result of that survey.”