Sunday, November 01, 2009

Montara Oil Spill and the Kimberley

This photo unsettles me.

Is was taken today, 1 November, over seventy days since the oil began to spew forth. And now the rig uncontollably belches fire and flame.

I possess scant knowledge of the oil and gas industries. I fail to appreciate the differences between sweet light crude and refined black viscous goo. I have know idea why unleaded petrol is better for engines than other fuels, though environmentally aware enough to comprehend humankind's need to move away from our polluting oil-based economies to something remarkably and radically different, before we make the planet unable to support us as a species.

It disturbs me that an oil leak has been belching an estimated 400 to 500 barrels of oil and gas into the Timor Sea. Each and every day since the 21 August this year, when the well head accident occurred on the West Atlas Rig owned by PTTEP Australasia. The thing is, no-one seems too concerned.

Since a barrel holds approximately 160 litres, my reckoning is that about four and a half million litres of crude oil are now failing to mix with the waters off the Kimberley coast, already having entered Indonesian waters. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) most updated release as of 26 October states that, to date, roughly 350,000 litres of oil and gas has been recovered.

PTTEP Australasia has acknowledged that the leak is going to be difficult to plug. A fire on the rig would - I'm guessing - in all likelihood make the undertaking somewhat more troublesome.

I just finished subediting a magazine last night for which one the this editions featured stories is about the Kimberley, one of Australia's last great wildernesses. As to be expected, the photography is mindboggling; of vast, untamed landscape ravaged by water and air over eons. It's remoteness from Industrial Age humankind has kept it pristine even into the 21st century.

Two months ago the oil slick was reported by the AMSA as being 170 kilometres from the coast of Western Australia, and moving closer. How far from shore it is now is impossible to say, since neither the Ministry for the Enviroment, Water, Hertiage and the Arts nor the AMSA has provided recent updates on this issue.

While I have good faith in the serious undertakings by Australian government departments and agencies to bring the leak under control, clean-up the spilled product, care for injured wildlife and monitor the environmental damage in the long-term, I cannot see how this story has failed to attract more media attention.

I worry equally about the apathy of my fellow citizens, the discriminate nature of the media, and the fact that that the story about the Kimberley might need some addenda before the print layout is sent to the press.

Let's hope the leak is plugged and the oil recovered quickly, rather than it being used to lubricate the machine of spin and recrimination, should the spill ever deface Kimberley wilderness.

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