Friday, October 23, 2009

Five new exploration licences and access to several oilfields in Australian waters is rewarded to PTTEP

The ongoing Montara / West Atlas oil spill in the Timor Sea off Western Australia is now in its 62nd day. So far, three attempts to intercept and plug the leaking well have failed. Another attempt should happen within a day. A MODIS / Terra satellite image taken on October 21 - exactly two months after the blowout and spill began - shows slicks and sheen covering 2,600 square miles and approaching within 35 miles of the Kimberley coast.

Dark patches at center are discontinuous slicks and sheen, coming within 35 miles (30 nautical miles) of the Australian coast. Other dark patches to the south and southwest may be a combination of slicks and sheen obscured by calm, low-wind conditions. Bright patch to right of slicks is intense area of sunglint reflection. Clouds are scattered throughout this image, especially over Western Australia's rugged Kimberley Coast. Ashmore and Cartier Islands are aqua blue spots in the upper left.

THE company responsible for one of the biggest oil spills in Australian history was yesterday given access to more Australian oilfields, after winning support from the Rudd Government.

As its workers began their fourth attempt at fixing the Montara oil leak off the Kimberley coast, Thai company PTTEP yesterday took control of five new exploration licences and several oilfields in Australian waters.

Despite growing concerns about the impact of the two-month oil leak, the $11 million purchase of new oil assets was supported by Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board.

Purchased from fellow oil exploration company OMV, the licences give PTTEP control of an extra 1480 square kilometres of Australian waters near the leaking Montara rig, about 650 kilometres west of Darwin.

With the Montara leak yet to be resolved, the deal prompted concern from scientists and environmentalists such as University of West Australia associate professor of marine ecology Euan Harvey.

''They need to demonstrate they cannot impact on others' livelihoods or on the ecosystem, and at the moment they've demonstrated very clearly that they can't do that,'' he said.

Professor Harvey, who has spent recent years researching marine biology in the waters close to the spill, said the oil slick posed a big risk to the larvae of large finfish, which spawn in October.

Australian Marine Conservation Society spokesman Darren Kindleysides said PTTEP's track record should be taken into account before access was granted to new oilfields.

''Clearly PTTEP's track record has been pretty shabby in recent months,'' he said. ''Major questions still hang unanswered over why this spill happened and why it hasn't been plugged yet.''

Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Chris Smyth called the timing extraordinary.

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