In September 2019 the Australian Senate supported a motion by the Greens to refer the ‘issue’ entitled “The impact of seismic testing on fisheries and the marine environment” to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report by May 2020.

The original closing date for submissions was 21 November 2019 and this was subsequently extended to 16 December 2019. TNR lodged its submission (Sub 11.pdf) on 20 November 2019 and, for those wishing to achieve a better understanding of the facts (not the politics!) surrounding this ‘issue’, its worth a read.

Unfortunately, the onset of Covid-19 delayed the whole process with just one public hearing being in Feb 2020 being and the final public hearing not being held until March 2021. TNR representative, John Hughes, appeared before the committee on 22 September 2021 and the following are his (5 minutes) opening comments to the committee:

“”Thank you, senators, for the opportunity to outline what I regard as the key elements of this issue.

I am the public officer and one of the founding members of The Norwood Resource (TNR). TNR was incorporated as a not-for-profit in 2013 by a group of retired, semi-retired and independent industry professionals who were, and still are, dismayed by the claims made in the media about the impacts of the oil and gas exploration and production industry on the environment.

Having been involved in the industry for decades, our members have the knowledge and experience to challenge the misinformation published in the public arena. In today’s vernacular I would describe what the general public hears as fake news.

Having been responsible for conducting onshore/offshore seismic surveys since the mid-80’s, I am very familiar with the physics of marine surveys and the concerns raised by stakeholders. Prior to my retirement from corporate life in 2007, I used ocean bottom sound loggers and aerial surveys before, during and after all our offshore seismic surveys to monitor (or audit) their impact (or, as it happened, lack of impact).

During the last decade, I have attended the last 3 International Aquatic Noise conferences and the last 3 International ESOMM meetings (Effects of Sound on Marine Mammals).

Having read the Hansard transcripts for the first 2 public hearings of this inquiry, I am concerned that the long period of time that this issue has been studied and monitored (audited) has been misrepresented. The implication that this issue has not been extensively researched and studied, with the focus mainly being on marine mammals, clearly misrepresents the wealth of studies, both published and unpublished, in this space.

Most of the early work was actually carried out on invertebrates and, of course, fish. This was because: i) smaller animals could be placed in tanks, cages, etc; and ii) whales were still hunted well into the 70’s.

Admittedly, when whale hunting was banned, long after the source for marine seismic surveys was changed from dynamite to compressed air, the focus did move to marine mammals. However, extensive work was still carried out on invertebrates and fish (particularly in Canada & Norway and, even, Australia), partly because it’s impossible to place a large whale in a cage or tank!

As an example of how long the concern about invertebrates and fish has been monitored and studied, I refer you to a study conducted off Port Fairy reported in the Australian Fisheries Newsletter dated March 1966 (yes, 1966). This was actually conducted with 25lb dynamite charges at about 15m from rock lobsters in held in pots. Conclusions included: “immediately after the disturbance subsided, none showed any signs of damage and all behaved normally”; “inspected 12 hours after the explosion and again 24 hours later…all were lively and in good condition”.

I’m not saying that this was robust science – and the results cannot be compared with impulses from compressed air, (which are actually 1500 times less intense) but it must shed some light on the issue.

My concerns are, that most of the recently published papers, like the IMAS papers that have been brought to your attention: i) are not replicated; ii) not representative of actual seismic surveys; iii) tend to ignore past studies; iv)  ignore the physics and facts; v) don’t take into account comparative natural sounds in the ocean; and vi) make claims designed to catch the headlines.

After all, just like mainstream media, even scientific journals these days operate under “publish or perish” pressure and end up only publishing the small percentage of “bad news” items because the greater percentage of “no impact” or even “good news” items are simply not newsworthy.“”

The committee’s final report was handed down in June 2021 – I leave it to those who are interested to decide whether the whole exercise was good use of taxpayers’ funds.