oz-rigAnd so it goes on. We may be able to send people to the moon but we are not able to stop a simple leak on an oil rig.

Over two months after Thailand’s PTTEP’s well sprung a leak in the Timor Sea, the oil continues to pour into the sea at a rate of some 2,000 barrels a day.

PTTEP has now delayed a fourth attempt to plug the leak that started on the 21st August that has since spewed tens of thousands of barrels of oil into areas inhabited by dolphins, sea turtles and humpback whales.

“We’ve got an environmental disaster unfolding,” argues Gilly Llewellyn, for WWF-Australia. Last week WWF carried out a survey of the infected area.

“Clearly, wildlife is dying and hundreds if not thousands of dolphins, seabirds and sea-snakes are being exposed to toxic oil. The critical issue is the long term impact of this slick on a rich marine ecosystem, taking into consideration the magnitude, extent and duration of the event,” said Dr Llewellyn.

The slick is spreading far and wide. Seaweed farmers on the Indonesian island of Rote, about 500km from the Australian mainland, have reportedly had more than 1000ha of harvest destroyed by the spill. And fishermen from nearby West Timor have reported finding masses of dead fish.

Such is the fall-out from the spill that the industry is turning in on itself in a spate of infighting. The oil and gas industry’s main lobby group, Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) has supported calls for an inquiry into the oil spill and the response by the industry and the government.

APPEA’s deputy chief executive Mark McCallum has said it had tarnished the sector’s “excellent environmental record. There are safeguards and technological measures available designed to prevent well blowouts,” he said. “It would be fair to say that the industry must learn from this incident that these incidents shouldn’t happen.”

But APPEA are also taking flak for issuing misinformation themselves.

WWF’s findings of an impact on wildlife is in “stark contrast to comments” by APPEA “that claimed our survey found no evidence of harm to marine life” argues Dr Llewellyn from WWF. “This is clearly a false representation of our results and appears to be an attempt to sweep this environmental disaster under the carpet”.