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French seismic survey destroying local livelihoods

by Simon Boag 30 Apr 07:43 UTC

French seismic company CGG started the largest seismic survey ever undertaken in south-east Australia the morning after bushfires swept through communities just north of Lakes Entrance in January this year.

Marine seismic surveys use blasts from a powerful air gun that is up to 16km wide to see kilometres into the earth to map reserves of oil and gas. Surveys like this are now proven to kill scallops and zooplankton and also to damage crayfish. CGG's survey will cover more than 13,000km2 - an area about half the size of the East Gippsland land mass.

The Australian Government has forced CGG to pay compensation to fishermen if catch rates drop. CGG and the fishing industry (FRDC) have co-funded a study about whether the seismic survey is impacting fishermen's catch rates.

Early results from the scientific study are that catch rates in the wake of the survey drop by 2/3rds for some species while others vanish completely.

CGG have refused to release data to the fishing industry about how many claims have been made by fishermen and how many have been paid. SETFIA understands that only three claims, of perhaps only 20 in total have been paid after nearly four months of surveying.

Mr Simon Boag, SETFIA EO explains;

"Our concern has always been that CGG will finish this survey and sail back to France leaving destruction behind. In 2017 CGG announced a US$128m loss, their debt increased to US$2.6b and they filed for bankruptcy. Only a restructure saw them continue. Given their refusal to pay compensation, their precarious financial position and the downturn in oil price (which reduces the number of buyers for their data), we are concerned that they will leave and never remedy the damage they are causing."

"Some vessels have experienced drops in catch rate of more than half in the wake of the survey. Fishermen now call the surveyed area the dead zone."

"Fishermen are telling me they can feel the seismic blasts shake their boats at night when they are on anchor trying to sleep".

"Many industries and businesses in East Gippsland have been impacted by bushfires, reduced tourism and more recently by the Covid-19 pandemic. After more than 100 years the deep sea fishing industry is one of the only significant industries in East Gippsland to survive this - it is still working and employing people. However, unless the Australian Government can force CGG to pay the compensation they promised, the fishing industry in East Gippsland will not survive".

CGG have promised to release data about claims made and paid on the 1st of May; 120 days into their 180 day campaign.

SETFIA made a formal complaint to the regulator of marine seismic surveys NOPSEMA nearly one month ago about the delay in payments. The only response we have received is via CGG who tell SETFIA that NOPSEMA found that their claim process was working well and has no issues.

In conclusion Mr Boag stated that,

"The fishing industry supports oil and gas exploration but fishermen and the East Gippsland community should not be the ones paying for the damage that this marine seismic survey is causing. CGG must be forced to keep their promise and pay fishermen for lost catches where they have occurred - the Gippsland economy needs to continue after CGG depart".

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