Councillors divided over oil exploration

About 50 campaigners opposed to oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight attended Wednesday’s Colac Otway Shire Council meeting at Apollo Bay, where councillors voted against taking a position on the issue. The council’s vote on the oil drilling issue was divided, split three votes to four.

Colac Otway Shire Council will not join neighbouring councils opposing oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, after four councillors voted against taking the position.

The council in January received a petition from Apollo Bay resident Lisa Deppeler with 1436 names, nearly 600 of them shire residents, calling for the council to formally oppose oil exploration and drilling in ocean off southern Australia.

Council officers then recommended at Wednesday’s council meeting at Apollo Bay that councillors determine “in-principle” opposition to plans to drill for oil in the Bight, where Norwegian oil company Equinor has owned two permits to explore for oil since 2017.

Equinor’s “worst-case” scenario oil-spill modelling obtained by Greenpeace Australia shows an oil spill could affect an area stretching from the southern coast of Western Australia to New South Wales, including all of the Colac Otway Shire coastline.

Council officers cited risks to the region’s tourism and fishing industries, as well as a clean-up of the shire’s coast being “practically difficult, if not impossible” if an oil spill occurred, as reasons for the recommendation.

But councillors Jason Schram, Chris Smith, Kate Hanson and Joe McCracken voted against the recommendation, which also asked the council to communicate opposition to oil drilling plans to Equinor, local members of parliament and state and federal ministers.

The vote was at odds with the positions of neighbouring coastal councils and was met with outbursts of disappointment and criticism from the meeting’s crowded public gallery.

Surf Coast Shire Council voted in December against drilling in the Bight, while Corangamite Shire Councillors opposed it in January.

Fifteen councils have reportedly opposed drilling in the Bight, a dozen of them in South Australia.

See today’s Colac Herald for more.

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