In late 2022 when this masthead confirmed floating dolphin carcasses had been found near the spill Santos said the sightings were a couple of hours after the incident and the dolphins had insufficient time in the spill to be harmed.
The WA wildlife regulator asked Santos to retrieve a carcass for examination, but the company was unable to find them when it searched later in the day.
SA Museum honorary mammal researcher Dr Catherine Kemper, who over 35 years has performed more than 800 post-mortems on whales and dolphins, said such a procedure conducted by experienced scientists was needed to determine the cause of death.
“It would take a brave or foolish person to say how the dolphins seen near the oil spill died without undertaking a post-mortem,” she said.
“The fact that the dolphins were seen dead and floating suggests a sudden death.”
Greenpeace campaigner Richard George said the allegations, if true, revealed a shocking disregard for marine wildlife.
“These allegations suggest that Santos is more concerned with covering its tracks than accepting accountability for a devastating oil spill at Varanus Island,” he said.
The oil spill is one of four known serious incidents in Santos’ operations in the waters around Varanus Island in less than two years.
In mid-2021 two workers had to scramble for their lives when a disused platform being lifted by a crane on a ship swung out of control just above their heads.
Federal offshore safety regulator NOPSEMA in November 2022 ordered a rig contracted by Santos to stop drilling as a device called a blowout preventer that stops the uncontrolled release of oil or gas was “unfit for service.” The failure of a blowout preventer contributed to the massive Gulf of Mexico 2010 oil spill that claimed 11 lives of workers in a drilling rig.
In the same month, bubbles of gas escaping from a leaking pipeline were spotted on the ocean surface near an offshore platform that supplies most of the gas processed at Varanus Island. For two months gas supply in WA was restricted causing some industry to curtail production while some power generators switch to more expensive diesel.
Brad Gandy, spokesman for the Offshore Alliance of unions covering WA oil and gas workers, said Santos had slashed the number of maintenance workers and engineers looking after Varanus Island.
“The regulators need to seriously consider revoking Santos’ licence to operate until improvements are made,” he said.
“If they fail to act there’s a very real chance a family will soon lose a breadwinner.”
Santos has been asked for comment.