Monday, November 2, 2009

Ferguson puts green light before spill inquiry

Update: See Peter Ker's excellent article, Crude Awakening, in the Focus section of The Age, 3/11. Ker also reports online, here.

It's hard to believe, but weeks after the Montara oil rig began leaking disastrously into the Timor Sea, the company that owns it was granted further access and exploration licences for Australian off-shore oil fields green-lighted by resources and energy minister, Martin Ferguson.

Now the rig is on fire. In response, Ferguson struggled on Radio National's AM Program this morning, before again squirming tonight on ABC TV's 7.30 Report - a performance followed by a possibly more uncomfortable prime minister Kevin Rudd.

Ferguson highlighted stopping the fire as the proper current focus, noting that the government had sprung into action only 15 minutes after learning of the disaster. Yet weeks, thousands of litres of oil and an inferno after the incident began back on 21 August, what does the government have to show for it but the promise of an inquiry and a huge question mark over WA fisheries and the broader ecosystem?

Greens Senator Bob Brown was accused of playing politics when he called for Ferguson's resignation, but at what stage does the scale of this environmental catastrophe intersect with ministerial accountability?

If the minister does not resign - and I believe he should - will he immediately call for the suspension of the oil exploration and access rights of the company that owns the oil rig pending the inquiry? If he will not, then the minister will have put his green light for the exploitation of fossil fuels before an inquiry that will determine the role of the company in the mishap.

Regardless of the specific causes of this incident, as the scarcity of global oil supplies increases, are we likely to see more such disasters as expanding worldwide exploration strikes reserves in potentially unsuitable geological formations? If we can't get oil safely out of the ground, what hope for carbon capture and storage to bury our carbon dioxide?

Oil leaks in pristine waters, spiralling carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, and the hazards of exploiting Australia's uranium all underline the risks of digging energy resources out of the ground when we could be pursuing clean, renewable energy. There's no impact when wave energy, the wind, or the sun escape our efforts to harness them. Until Ferguson gets that message, our local member for Batman will continue to wreak global damage.

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