ESSO Australia has issued a detailed rebuttal of claims by Friends of the Earth that is threatening the marine environment by short-cutting the decommissioning of Bass Strait oil rigs.

At the weekend FoE claimed Esso plans to “dump eight toxic oil platforms” in waters off Gippsland and called for state and federal government intervention.

But the company said that it had undertaken a thorough assessment of responsible decommissioning options and stakeholder engagement, and is confident its plan delivers an equal or better environmental outcome. It will see the vast majority of each of the steel platforms removed from Bass Strait and recycled onshore.

The proposal is to remove all steel platforms down to a depth of 55 metres below mean sea level or at the seabed depending on the water depth at each location which, Esso says, strikes the right balance between safety of navigation (IMO standard) and preserving thriving marine ecosystems, which have developed around the jackets.

The steel piled jackets are 98% iron and do not contain any mercury, lead, cadmium, asbestos or Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM), as asserted by FoE.

Steel proposed to remain to support the ecosystem contains no hazardous or toxic material and is similar to scuttled vessels that are designated protected marine parks (the remaining steel is equivalent to less than a third of the steel in the Sydney Harbour Bridge), Esso said.

“As part of our decommissioning planning, we partnered with expert researchers, academics and environmental consultants to complete a three-part comprehensive offshore environmental survey, which included a detailed examination of fish and epibenthic communities, a benthic infauna identification and a sediment analysis. The majority of our structures are completely covered in marine life, which is in turn providing a habitat and a source of food for over 55 species of fish and larger marine fauna such as seals and sharks,” an Esso Australia spokesperson said.

“We have already safely completed over $1 billion of decommissioning work across our offshore operations, including the Plug & Abandonment of over 100 wells. In order to support this increasing well abandonment scope, we have contracted or mobilised six additional mobile offshore assets including the Skandi Darwin multi-purpose support vessel, Helix Q7000 semi-submersible drill rig, Valaris 107 jack-up drill rig and three additional platform based drill rigs.

“Esso Australia is committed to the responsible decommissioning of our Bass Strait offshore facilities, which have delivered essential energy supplies to Australia for more than 50 years.”