ENVIRONMENTAL group Friends of the Earth claims Esso Australia plans to “dump eight toxic oil platforms” off Gippsland and wants state and federal government intervention.

FoE claims Esso, which is owned by Woodside and ExxonMobil, wants to remove the topsides of the platforms before cutting the massive pylons, or jackets, and dumping them into the ocean. The eight facilities are among 13 that need to be decommissioned in coming years, it says.

“They have been found to contain high levels of asbestos, mercury, lead and other heavy metals, as well as thousands of tonnes of hazardous radioactive waste, technically enhanced and worsened in the extraction process.

“Esso says that the will be creating so-called artificial reefs, but the level of toxins and radioactivity in the resulting sea life is likely to be high, given recent studies,” the group said. 

“FoE is calling on the [federal] government to immediately reject the application, and to force the company to safely and responsibly remove all of the steel and other recyclable materials from the facilities.”

Offshore Fossil Gas campaigner Jeff Waters claimed Esso is being deceptive, because it’s “rigs to reef” scheme “is nothing but an attempt to save money”.

“Esso has to rent a European decommissioning ship, so they are rushing to complete the Bass Strait decommissioning in one season,” Mr Waters said. “If they were to be forced to recycle the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of perfectly good steel, they’d need to hire such a ship over several years.

“Esso’s toxic fish factory has to be stopped.” 

Mr Waters claimed Esso is using scientific studies “that they paid for” to justify turning the ocean off Gippsland into a toxic dump: “”Those retired oil platforms contain huge amounts of mercury and hazardous radioactive waste, which will poison the areas around them and render the sea life too dangerous to consume. It’s also a waste of perfectly good steel that could be recycled and turned into much-needed wind turbine towers and bases.”

FoE is also calling on the Victorian government to intervene.

“The state government needs steel to build wind turbine towers and bases,” Mr Waters said. “The state government should be picking up the phone to their federal colleagues today and demanding that this steel be recycled.”

Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to extend the existing temporary decommissioning levy to force the oil and methane industry to pay for world-standard onshore breaking and recycling facilities.

Comment has been sought from Esso Australia.

In November last year Esso Australia announced contracts had been signed for deployment of the heavy-duty jack-up rig Valaris 107 for decommissioning activities across their offshore operations.

The rig, which has previously worked for Beach energy in Bass Strait and NZ and is now working in the Timor Sea, is expected to commence work in Q4 2024, to complete the plug and abandonment work of 26 wells across three platforms and five subsea locations in the Gippsland Basin: Bream B, Perch, and Dolphin; and Mulloway, Whiptail, Marlin-1, East Pilchard-1, Halibut-1.

Valaris 107 has been booked from October 2024 until October 2025.