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Equinor Gains Environmental Approval for Great Australian Bight Plan

Photo: Wilderness Society SA Director Peter Owen and Mirning elder Bunna Lawrie in Oslo
Photo: Wilderness Society SA Director Peter Owen and Mirning elder Bunna Lawrie in Oslo

By The Maritime Executive 12-18-2019 06:28:29

Australia's offshore oil and gas authority NOPSEMA has approved Norwegian oil-giant Equinor's Environment Plan for drilling in the Great Australian Bight. 

This is the second of four approvals required before drilling activity can begin for the Stromlo-1 exploration well located 400 kilometers south west of Ceduna and 476 kilometers west of Port Lincoln.

Under Commonwealth legislation, energy companies must have a petroleum title, an accepted environment plan, well operations management plan and activity safety case before they can undertake any offshore oil and gas activity.

The environmental assessment process has taken almost eight months, with Equinor modifying and re-submitting its Environment Plan twice in response to NOPSEMA’s requests for additional information. The Environment Plan was also subject to public review and comment, with NOPSEMA and Equinor reviewing more than 30,000 submissions.

NOPSEMA says it has imposed stringent conditions on its approval to ensure a high level of protection to the environment, in recognition of the region’s unique values and sensitivities.

Australian industry body APPEA has welcomed the approval. APPEA South Australia Director Matthew Doman said it was important that oil exploration resumed in the Bight to understand the scale of the resources and whether commercial development is possible. “The prospects of a successful development offshore in South Australia could bring significant economic and energy benefits for the state and the nation.”

A report commissioned by APPEA last year found successful oil exploration in the Bight could create more than 2,000 jobs in South Australia and generate over A$7 billion in average annual tax revenue to Federal and State governments over the next four decades. Australia’s oil production has declined significantly since 2000, and is at its lowest levels since the 1960s.

However, Sea Shepherd says NOPSEMA's decision ignores the concerns of the Australian public. Equinor's deep-sea oil proposal has been actively opposed around the country with tens of thousands of people participating in paddle-out protests on Australia's beaches. 

Sea Shepherd Australia's Managing Director Jeff Hansen said, "Equinor does not have the approval of the Australian public. There is zero social license for this insane project.

"As Australia has just endured it's hottest national day on record, and our brave firefighters are out battling unprecedented raging bushfires, it's clear that a climate emergency is truly upon us. Now - more than ever - we must come together and fight for the Bight, and fight for any chance of a liveable climate for future generations."

The Great Australian Bight is a pristine natural wilderness area, home to one of the world's most significant southern right whale nurseries. Oil spill modelling shows that their nursery would not be safe. According to Equinor's own report, an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight could affect the coastline from South Australia to as far north as Port Macquarie in New South Wales. 

Experts convened by Sydney University released a report earlier this year that said: “Equinor has consistently made optimistic choices in order to convince the public and NOPSEMA that ‘it is safe' to drill … However, we saw a similar style of overconfidence demonstrated in BP's proposal to drill in the Gulf of Mexico, which led to one of the world's biggest oil spills in 2010.” 

Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen said: “The Fight for the Bight is one of the biggest environmental protests Australia has seen, and this approval will only further mobilize community opposition. Australia’s biggest environmental protests, from the Franklin Dam to the Adani coal mine, have only escalated after approvals have been given. Tens of thousands of people have already protested against Equinor’s Bight plans all around Australia and even in Norway, and on a single day in November there were over 50 paddle out protests across the country.”