‘The nets were coming up smelling of rotten seafood’: Fisherman fight against natural gas exploration


Activists and fishermen in Newcastle claim the techniques used for natural gas exploration can be just as environmentally damaging as burning gas.

For decades, the four-thousand square kilometre off-shore basin between Sydney and Newcastle has been touted as petroleum mining’s ‘next big thing’.

Geologists estimate the basin could hold enough liquid gas to meet New South Wales’ energy needs for 20 years.

For geologists to determine where best to drill for natural gas deposits, they need to understand what the rock structure looks like thousands of meters below the seafloor. To do this, they use a technique known as ‘seismic testing’. 

Seismic Testing: An acoustic pulse reflected off the rocks beneath the sea floor helps geologists find natural gas deposits.

Asset Energy was given approval by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environment Management Authority (NOPSEMA) to carry out seismic testing in the basin. In a statement to The Feed, NOPSEMA said: “Any impact on fish within 1km of activity will be temporary and beyond 1km the impact will be negligible.”

Director of Asset Energy, Toby Foster, maintains, “We don’t expect any major impacts on marine organisms as a result of this survey.”

Natasha Dean, a local dentist who started the activist group Stop Seismic Testing Newcastle, disputes this. Dean claims new research indicates seismic testing, “impairs the navigation of whales and dolphins, so much so that there was a ban imposed on seismic testing on many parts of the world including in the US.”

Fish stocks don't seem to matter when it comes to gas and big business and government contracts.

Brett Bollinger, a local commercial fisherman, claims that in the days after seismic testing was last carried out in the basin, “the nets were coming up smelling of rotten seafood.”   

While Bollinger fears that he will no longer be able to work if testing continues, he is not hopeful that Asset Energy will stop operating in the basin any time soon. “A couple of fisherman or fish stocks don't seem to matter when it comes to gas and big business and government contracts.”

Fellow fisherman, Jason Nunn, says, “If they found gas off Bondi, I doubt we'd be having this conversation.”