Equinor releases draft Environment Plan for Bight drilling program

SPILL MAP: Equinor's own amlagamated oil spill map from Page 70 of its Environment Plan. The purple line indicates weathered oil on the shore.
SPILL MAP: Equinor's own amlagamated oil spill map from Page 70 of its Environment Plan. The purple line indicates weathered oil on the shore.

Equinor has released its draft Environment Plan (EP) for the proposed Stromlo-1 exploration drilling program in permit EPP 39 in the Great Australian Bight for public comment. 

The Stromlo-1 well location is situated 372 km off the coast of South Australia and about 500 km west of Kangaroo Island.

International energy company says the development of the EP is a key step in the offshore exploration regulatory process. 

It details Equinor’s planned activity and all the measures to be put in place to avoid and mitigate impacts on the environment.  The company says the EP concludes drilling can be done safely.

Equinor country manager for Australia, Jone Stangeland, said this was the first time a draft EP for an offshore exploration well had been published before submission and assessment by the regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA),   

“Over the last two years we have engaged with more than 100 different organisations in the South Australian community and they have consistently asked us to be open about our plans. We have listened, and today we are releasing the complete draft EP for our offshore exploration well,” Mr Stangeland said.

For a period of 30 days, public comments to the draft EP can be submitted directly to the regulator, NOPSEMA.  

“We have made the draft EP available to members of the community and we will take all comments into consideration before updating our EP and submitting it to the independent regulator,” he said.

“This draft EP is the result of more than two years of careful preparation and our 1500-page plan demonstrates how we can drill safely and includes a robust emergency response plan.

“The EP documents the existing environment in the Great Australian Bight and describes all relevant risks, however unlikely. By identifying every possible risk, we can better prepare for safe operations.”

In June 2017, Equinor became the operator and 100 per cent equity owner of offshore exploration permits EPP 39 and 40 located in the Great Australian Bight.

Once all regulatory approvals are in place, Equinor plans to start drilling in the summer of 2020/2021. 

A link to the Environment Plan can be found here at https://www.equinor.com/gabproject

Formerly Statoil, Equinor has 20,000 employees developing oil, gas, wind and solar energy in more than 30 countries worldwide. It’s the largest operator in Norway, and among the world’s largest offshore operators.

EQUINOR WELL: The Stromlo-1 well location is situated 372 km off the coast of South Australia and about 500 km west of Kangaroo Island.

EQUINOR WELL: The Stromlo-1 well location is situated 372 km off the coast of South Australia and about 500 km west of Kangaroo Island.

Greens will fight Bight plans

The Greens will fight to stop Equinor drilling in the Bight.

“We cannot let this project go ahead. Equinor wants approval within months. The Greens are standing with South Australians to fight this all the way,” Greens environment spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

“We are not prepared to let South Australian tourism and fishing industries be put at risk for the sake of multinational corporate profits, no matter what spin Equinor tries to put on it. The reality is the Bight is too precious to risk. Drilling for oil in the middle of a whale sanctuary is madness.

“The Bight waters are rough and remote. Equnior has nothing to lose and everything to gain from this project. In the case of an oil spill, it will be South Australians, not Equinor, who pay the price. At a time when we know we must transition away from fossil fuels to arrest climate change, the costs of opening up a new oilfield to the planet are too great.

“Instead of opening up another oilfield, Australia should be showing the world how great the Bight is. It is home to some of the most unique wildlife in the world – 85 per cent of marine life found in the Bight is found nowhere else. The Greens are pursuing World Heritage protection for the Bight, supporting our jobs in tourism and fisheries, and our beautiful Kangaroo Island over big oil.

“Labor and the Liberals want to risk all we love about the Bight to do the bidding of the oil and gas industry. The 73 per cent of South Australians who want World Heritage protection for the Great Australian Bight can have faith that the Greens are fighting with them to protect the Bight and stop this project.”

Greenpeace says Bight under threat

Greenpeace is demanding the Federal environment minister intervene to end reckless oil exploration in the Southern Ocean, as Norwegian oil giant Equinor takes its first steps towards experimental drilling in the Great Australian Bight Marine Park.

Equinor has today lodged its environmental plan with regulatory body NOPSEMA continuing to press forwards with a project that places thousands of kilometres of pristine coastline, fishing towns, and tourist icons in grave danger.

“Drilling in the Great Australian Bight, with its extreme depth and violent oceans, is dangerous and irresponsible,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific Senior Campaigner, Nathaniel Pelle, said.

“This place is Australia’s whale nursery, it’s populated by probably the highest concentration of dolphins in the world, and is home to more unique species than the Great Barrier Reef.”

“Equinor’s proposed and frankly experimental oil drilling will be in exactly the same location that BP walked away from after disastrous spill modelling rocked their bid - and we have seen report after report showing the catastrophic impact and frightening reach of spills. Equinor’s own modelling demonstrated an oil spill could reach as far north as Port Macquarie.”

Pelle said the lodging of an environmental plan should serve as an alarm for coastal communities everywhere from Western Australia to New South Wales.

“Coastal towns  should be on alert from Esperance in WA, to Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island right at the epicentre of the oil spill zone, and even Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, Bondi Beach, and the east coast of Tasmania,” he said.

“People who love the marine life and pristine waters of the Bight must rally together and turn away Equinor, just as they turned away BP and Chevron and they should demand their Government save the whales in the Bight by ending oil drilling there for good.”

“The risks of this extreme project are all the more unjustifiable, as the age of oil is draws to a close as electric vehicles become cheaper, and more and more countries move to ban combustion engines and phase out petroleum-based cars - both to combat global warming and to cut dangerous air pollution.”

Peak body says drilling safe

The peak national body representing Australia’s oil and gas exploration and production industry, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) says they support oil drilling and exploration in the Great Australian Bight and that “there is no reason South Australia cannot have a safe, sustainable and successful offshore petroleum industry.”

This comes in the wake of criticism from environmental organisations, fishery bodies and fifteen councils who say seismic testing adversely affects marine life and that the risks associated with oil drilling in the Bight are too great.

APPEA’s Director of External Affairs Matthew Dorman said there are risks that need to be managed but the industry has a “long and strong track record of doing that.”

“The conditions in the Great Australian Bight are comparable to environments around the world (including offshore Canada and the Norwegian Sea) where the oil and gas industry has operated safely for decades,” said Mr Dorman.

“Australian authorities only approve oil and gas activities when and where they can be conducted safely and with minimal environmental impact. 

“It is clearly essential that oil exploration and development is only undertaken by companies with experience and expertise to do so safely and sustainably, and that they have the financial strength to meet all obligations.”

Successful oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight could see the creation of more than 2000 jobs in South Australia and generate over $7 billion in average annual tax revenue to Federal and State governments over the next four decades, according to a study by ACIL Allen Consulting. 

Mr Dorman said the benefits of this activity would be widely spread, including in key regional centres such as Port Lincoln and Ceduna, where onshore facilities and services are likely to be based.

Wilderness Society sounds alarm bells

The Wilderness Society is alleging Norwegian oil giant Equinor is acting worse than notorious environmental vandal BP by lodging its Environmental Plan to pursue risky ultra-deepwater oil in drilling in one of the world’s roughest seas, the pristine marine marvel that is the Great Australian Bight.

“Equinor said it would not push through resistance if it is not wanted, yet it is ignoring the huge growing community opposition and pushing ahead with its totally irresponsible plan to open up a new oil precinct in the pristine, deep and rough waters of the Great Australian Bight,” said Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen said.

“Fifteen southern Australian coastal local government have now voted their concern or opposition to oil drilling in the Bight. These councils represent some of Australia’s biggest tourism drawcards, Kangaroo Island, the Twelve Apostles, Bells Beach and the Great Ocean Road, as well as the home of the southern hemisphere’s biggest fishing fleet.

“Furthermore, Equinor has not consulted with legitimate stakeholders with relevant interests, as the regulations require and even BP was willing to do.  

“Equinor is acting worse than notorious environmental vandal BP, which brought us the world’s biggest oil spill accident, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in 2010, when 800 million litres of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days after attempting to drill an exploration well.

“Equinor is ignoring local governments representing half a million people who oppose oil drilling in the Bight and has ignored the regulations in Australia by not consulting with relevant stakeholders. Norwegians would be justifiably horrified to find out that their state-owned oil company is carrying on like cowboys in Australia and ruining their country’s good name.

“Equinor has shown it does not understand Australia and the importance of our First Nations people, the Traditional Owners, local government and environment organisations, which helped establish the marine parks that Equinor wants to drill in.

“Consultation is supposed to be a two-way process, working together with stakeholders to mitigate the impacts of such proposals, but Equinor has not consulted with the Wilderness Society, which campaigned for the marine parks Equinor wants to drill for oil in.

“Equinor may say it is consulting with its public feedback process but that is not the consultation required by law. Equinor has given the public  just four weeks to try to digest highly detailed information and address problems that should have been addressed during the consultation process that Equinor is trying to avoid. The public should let Equinor know exactly how they feel about this totally irresponsible plan to drill in the Great Australian Bight.

“Ultra-deepwater drilling is a relatively new, high-risk operation carried out mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Brazil. Ultra-deepwater drilling caused the world’s biggest oil spill accident, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in 2010, when 800 million litres of oil spewed into the gulf for 87 days after BP attempted to drill an exploration well.

“The Great Australian Bight waters are deeper, more treacherous and more remote than the Gulf of Mexico. Equinor’s own oil spill modelling showed a spill from an ultra-deepwater well blowout in the Great Australian Bight could impact anywhere along all of southern Australia’s coast, from Western Australia right across to Victoria through Bass Strait to NSW and around Tasmania. A spill could hit Adelaide in 20 days and could hit Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island in 15 days.

“There is no established offshore oil and gas industry in South Australia to deal with a disaster. More than 6800 boats were involved in the Gulf clean-up but the South Australian Oyster Growers Association says that SA and neighbouring states probably have only 20 vessels that could operate safely in the waters where BP-Statoil planned to drill.

“A spill would be devastating for South Australia’s $442 million fishing industry and its tourism industries in coastal regions, worth more than $1 billion. The two industries employ more than 10,000 full-time positions.

“The Great Australian Bight is a unique, pristine wilderness marine environment, with 85 per cent of its marine species found only in these waters. The Bight is a haven for 36 species of whales and dolphins, including the world’s most important nursery for the endangered southern right whale. The Bight is Australia’s most important sea lion nursery and supports seals, orcas, giant cuttlefish, great white sharks and some of Australia’s most important fisheries.

“It’s totally irresponsible to be risking the Bight and a liveable climate for our children when the stakes are so high.

“Australia is in the midst of an environmental crisis. Greedy corporations are trampling over Australian communities to damage our environment and health, taking advantage of weak laws and governments, to trash our forests, seas, wildlife and climate. Communities need strong new laws that actually protect their environment and an independent national environment protection watchdog to enforce those laws. Equinor has turned the Great Australian Bight into a major election issue.”


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