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Offshore Oil Well Leaked for Months, Public Kept in Dark for a Year

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Oil spill stock photo. Flickr

Australia's oil regulator is refusing to disclose the location and the company behind a 10,500 liter leak of petroleum into the ocean last year.

An Australian offshore oil and gas well leaked continuously into surrounding waters for two months in 2016 but information about the discharge was only released this week in the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority's (NOPSEMA) annual offshore performance report.


According to The Guardian, the report provided scant details about the spill, which was only found after a routine inspection. After the publication asked about the spill, NOPSEMA divulged that the leak went on for two months at a rate of about 175 liters a day.

A NOPSEMA spokesman explained that the leak was caused by seal degradation but refused to reveal the exact location of the spill, just that it happened in the North West Shelf—an extensive oil and gas region off the coast of Western Australia.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific criticized the agency for keeping the public in the dark and noted that no fines or other form of punishment were given to whoever the operator might be.

"Australians, and especially those who rely on the ocean for their livelihood, should be deeply concerned by reports that the national oil regulator has withheld information from the public about a 10,500 liter oil leak for over twelve months," senior Greenpeace campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said.

"There's absolutely no justification for continuing to keep the company involved or the location of the oil spill a secret. NOPSEMA must immediately make the identity of the company involved and the location of the spill available to the public," Pelle stressed.

Last week, an "improvement" notice issued by NOPSEMA showed it failed to take action against ExxonMobil for its Feb. 1 oil spill in the Bass Strait, Pelle noted.

"When you combine this with their failure to punish ExxonMobil for a recent spill the lack of any meaningful enforcement action is staggering and incomparable to most extractive industries," he said.

Pelle pointed out that NOPSEMA's report also showed that hydrocarbon leaks increased by 28 percent and inspections by the regulator went down 27 percent.

"NOPSEMA's performance report should be a wake-up call to the government and to anyone who has the bad luck of sharing the marine environment with the oil industry," he said.

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