Aussie crew 'shocked' after drone captures 100m structure hidden under boat

The footage has resulted in an urgent call for the 'rusting' structure off the Western Australian coast to be removed.

From the surface of the water, it was impossible for those on board a small rubber boat to know what lay hidden beneath the surface of the ocean.

One of those on the Greenpeace vessel spoke to Yahoo News Australia on the condition of anonymity. She was one of a small group who dropped an underwater drone to investigate the condition of a 10-storey high industrial mining tower off Western Australia’s coast.

“I thought I knew what to expect, but at the same time, seeing the size and scale of the thing, and knowing that it had just been left hidden in the ocean, still gave me a shock,” she said.

A Greenpeace crew can be seen above the ocean level. The shot also captures a little bit of the water below the surface.
A Greenpeace crew used a drone to film a 100-metre gas structure rusting on the sea floor. Source: Supplied

The cost of removing off-shore assets awaiting decommissioning off the Australian coast could exceed $50 billion. By 2050, the clean-up for these oil and gas ventures across the entire Asia-Pacific could hit $150 billion. "We're trying to shine a light on having all of this very serious oil and gas infrastructure just sitting in the sea," the activist said.

Woodside believes its structure is sound

The footage shows a 93-metre tall structure lying 47 metres below sea level. The Riser Turret Mooring (RTM) was initially part of the Griffin gas field that was operated by BHP, but it “unexpectedly sank” in 2013. BHP said the structure was providing habitat for marine life, but conceded it could eventually become “compromised” and “negatively impact” the environment. You can see the video below.

The off-shore gas field was acquired by energy giant Woodside in 2022, and it believes the RTM “does not pose a contamination risk”. “Woodside has performed visual inspections that have confirmed the integrity of the RTM and undertaken studies to analyse the contents of the structure. These studies demonstrate that the contents do not have any adverse impact to marine life,” it said in a statement.

Will Woodside be cleaning up its waste?

But Greenpeace Australia-Pacific CEO David Ritter says the footage shows the RTM is “visibly rusting and decrepit”.

“After almost two decades in environmental activism it takes a lot to shock me, but the sheer arrogance of Woodside and BHP in thinking they can leave a 100 metre-high piece of industrial waste lying in the ocean is breathtaking,” he said.

Industry regulator NOPSEMA told ABC the structures contain polyurethane foam, plastics and an epoxy coating, but the contamination risk to the ocean remains low in the short to medium term.

Mr Ritter has called on the company to immediately remove the structure. NOPSEMA has given Woodside until the end of 2024 to clean it up. Woodside told Yahoo it is finalising a tender process to complete the removal in line with the regulatory timeframe that has been imposed on it.

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