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Timor Sea oil spill Australia's third largest -

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Timor Sea oil spill Australia's third largest

Bronwyn Herbert reported this story on Monday, September 14, 2009 12:34:00

ELEANOR HALL: To one of the potential down sides of the resources industry now. An oil spill that
started more than three weeks ago off the West Australian coast has now become the third-biggest
oil slick in Australia's history.

Up until now, the company had not publicly put a figure on the size of the spill. Now it says 400
barrels a day are leaking into the ocean.

Environmentalists say the delay in getting accurate information on the scale of the disaster
highlights the need for the Federal Government to take charge of the response.

Bronwyn Herbert has our report.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Crude oil has been leaking from the Montara Well in the Timor Sea for more than
three weeks. The company responsible - PTTEP Australasia - has confirmed more than 1200 tonnes of
oil has spilled into the ocean so far.

Tracey Jiggins from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority says this figure makes it Australia's
third largest oil spill.

TRACEY JIGGINS: If you go back to 1975 we had the Princess Anne Marie which was 14,800 tonnes of
oil lost and the Kirki in 1991 which was 17,280 tonnes. So they are really, really massive spills.
Certainly this one is not anywhere near that sort of extent, but it is getting up there in terms of
the quantity.

BRONWYN HERBERT: AMSA says the rate of oil flow into the sea is reducing, but it is difficult for
the company responsible to accurately measure the flow. Tracey Jiggins says the maritime
authority's work is continuing, but has been scaled back.

TRACEY JIGGINS: We've got two observation flights daily across the area and we have our vessels,
spoons and skimmers to recover oil off the surface of the water and in addition to that we have got
another vessel that is doing disbursement spraying as necessary.

BRONWYN HERBERT: The Greens say the lack of accurate information on the spill from both the company
and the Government authorities is disappointing.

Senator Rachel Siewert has flown over the site and believes the company's 400 barrels a day figure
is a conservative estimate.

RACHEL SIEWERT: My concern with the company saying there is around 300, 400 barrels per day
spilling is that there is no data to back that up and when you look at what the expected production
from that well is, it is significantly higher.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Senator Siewert questions why it's taken the company so long to release the data.

RACHEL SIEWERT: With more than three weeks down the track before the company acknowledged how much
oil may be coming from the well. I think they haven't been as upfront as I think they should have
been.

And it wasn't until I flew over the site a week after the accident that AMSA actually acknowledged
the size of the spill in terms of the size of the spill, the quantity of the oil entering the
marine environment and then the quantity of the disbursements being used.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Senator do you acknowledge though that it is difficult to try and measure an oil
spill like that?

RACHEL SIEWERT: Yes it is but they have access to satellite data. They were doing regular flights
over it AMSA said. The next day they were flying over it.

They dropped satellite buoys or tracking buoys into the water, so they had a fairly good idea about
how big it way. They just weren't releasing that information, it seems to me.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Six different government agencies are involved in the operation.

Senator Siewert says this incident has raised a number of questions on the way government's respond
to major oil slicks.

RACHEL SIEWERT: That indicates that we need an update of our national oil response plan because I
think having to go to those difference agencies to find out all that information is extremely
confusing.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Don Henry is the executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation. He
says the oil spill highlights why there needs to be a marine conservation plan.

DON HENRY: We have got coral reefs, we've got whales, whale sharks. It is a precious beautiful
pristine region now being polluted by a bad oil spill. There should be no more oil and gas
development until there is a full proper marine conservation plan in place.

BRONWYN HERBERT: A spokesman from PTTEP Australasia was unable to speak with The World Today, but
says it will still take another three to four weeks to stem the spill.

ELEANOR HALL: Bronwyn Herbert reporting.