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Protesters take to water over King Island oil and gas search

On Sunday a group of protesters from OCEAN – the Otway Climate Emergency Action Network – paddled into Corio Port in Geelong, from where the seismic testing vessel Geo Coral will depart for the King Island region. Three were arrested.

Protester and surfer Belinda Baggs said seismic testing could have a devastating impact on marine life. “New gas exploration risks a healthy ocean and adds to emissions that we drastically need to reduce,” she said.

Development of new oil and gas reserves is increasingly contentious. In May, the global International Energy Agency said no new oil, gas or coal should be developed if the world is to reach net zero by 2050.

And last week Antonio Guterres, United Nations secretary-general, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paper signalled a “code red for humanity” and “must sound a death knell” for fossil fuels.

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Wilderness Society national corporate campaigner Jess Lerch said the revised version of the ConocoPhillips seismic blasting plan was provided to the regulator just five days before the approval decision, which did not give the community enough time to respond.

“The company had the seismic boat well on the way to King Island before the approval had landed in ConocoPhillips’ inbox,” she said. “That’s the equivalent of starting the chainsaw as you wait for the permit to cut down the forest to arrive.

“At every stage there is a presumption that the blasting will go ahead, no matter what the risks. This entire ‘regulatory’ process works for oil and gas companies, not the community or the environment.”

There is limited research into the effects of seismic testing on marine life. In 2010 fishers in the Bass Strait reported the death of 24,000 tonnes of scallops worth $70 million after seismic testing carried out by the Victorian government.

Tests conducted by researchers from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania and Curtin University have found that noise from the seismic airguns used for marine oil and gas exploration significantly increases mortality in scallops.

The study, published in the prestigious US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used field-based experiments over a three-year period to test the impact on scallops of exposure to the compressed air guns.

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