THE energy company behind plans to use high-powered air cannon off the coast of Warrnambool has slammed claims by environmentalists that it could disturb critically endangered whales.
Earlier this week The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) revealed it would challenge plans by WHL Energy to conduct a seismic survey in the Otway Basin for gas exploration.
The group believes the high-noise cannon could disrupt the migratory patterns of whales, potentially placing Warrnambool’s multi-million-dollar ecotourism industry at risk.
But WHL Energy hit back yesterday, saying testing had been carried out for decades without any recorded impact on the species.
“Gas exploration activities have been conducted in the Otway (basin) for over 30 years — there is no evidence of an adverse impact on southern right or blue whale population during this time,” WHL spokesman Colin Hay said.
“No impacts to whales have been recorded during 40 years of seismic surveying using compressed air in this area.”
Mr Hay also pointed to similar gas exploration on the north-west shelf of Australia, where there is a large population of humpback whales.
“The recovery of the group VI humpback whale population on the NW shelf at a rate close to the biological maximum has occurred in tandem with the growth of the petroleum industry in this area,” he said.
The company also confirmed that it would test during May/April or November/December when whale numbers were at their lowest.
“The windows for seismic survey are determined by recorded whale movements and are designed to avoid pregnant right whales and feeding blue whales,” Mr Hay said.
WHL Energy owns the 1000- square-kilometre La bella gas field located between Warrnambool and Port Campbell.
It hopes to carry out the tests to build a 3D seismic model of the gas reserves, which is needed before any development can start.
Federal environment minister Tony Burke is expected to announce a decision on the project in January.
Mr Hay said previous objections by The Greens, Greenpeace and Whales in Danger had proven to be unfounded.
WHL Energy has submitted an array of environmental studies, including risk mitigation to the whale species.
“WHL is convinced that the seismic survey can be carried out with minimal disruption to whales species in the area — we point to the track record that the industry has in the area and in the rest of Australian waters.”