Equinor pushes ahead with Bight drill plan despite concerns

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.

Norwegian oil giant Equinor is pushing ahead with plans and is submitting its environment plan to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

Greenpeace says Equinor has only addressed 13 of more than 31,000 comments on the plan and has ignored all the shortcomings identified by oil industry legal expert Professor Tina Hunter, who last week penned a report on the risks of drilling the Bight and said the plan would be illegal in Norway, on safety grounds.

Another protest against oil exploration in the Bight is planned for Emu Bay beach on Kangaroo Island at 11am and at Vivonne Bay beach this Sunday, May 5.

National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) on April 24 received an environment plan submission from Equinor for its proposed drilling, after a 30-day period of public consultation.

Equinor dismissed most of the 31,000 comments it received during that period, refusing to consider 97 percent of received submissions "because they did not meet their criteria", and stating that only 13 comments have led to any changes to their environment plan, according to Greenpeace.

Professor Tina Soliman Hunter, Director of the Centre for Energy Law at the University of Aberdeen, who recently published a scathing report on Equinor's proposal to drill the Bight, has described the proposal as, "exceptional in terms of the risk of a drilling accident occurring, and the difficulties in responding to an incident".

"Equinor's proposal for response measures in the case of a loss of well control in the Great Australian Bight wouldn't be permitted by the Norwegian regulator," Professor Hunter said.

A report published last week by Greenpeace Australia Pacific, has revealed that in the last three and a half years, Equinor has had more than 50 safety incidents - including 10 that resulted in chemical, oil or gas leaks.

"I do not have confidence in Equinor's plan nor NOPSEMA's capacity to prevent a well blowout in the Great Australian Bight," Professor Soliman Hunter said.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner, Nathaniel Pelle said, "If the only way Equinor can make drilling in the Bight commercially viable is by cutting corners on safety measures and proposing a plan that would be illegal in Norway, they should give up now."

"Australians will not accept being treated as substandard and the regulator, NOPSEMA, should reject the proposal out of hand," Mr Pelle said.

"Equinor's own modelling shows that a worst case scenario oil spill on the Bight wouldn't just risk the pristine beauty of the Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles, and Kangaroo Island, it could see oil wash up on Bondi Beach - yet Equinor has no clean up plan for any location."

"Seven out of 10 South Australians are opposed to Bight drilling, as are more than 60 percent across the nation according to a recent poll - there is no way that Equinor will have have the support of the community for this risky project."

Three of the four major international oil spills from well blowouts in recent years occurred in exploration wells, which is what Equinor plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight, he said.

"Australia is presently the only mature jurisdiction that does not require well inspections during construction and does not require the use of appropriate standards for oil well control in that environ. The Great Australian Bight is also a very remote and extreme physical environment for drilling," Professor Soliman Hunter said.

Equinor responds

Equinor's country manager for Australia, Jone Stangeland, responded to the claims from Greenpeace.

"At Equinor we believe any oil spill is unacceptable; we work hard to plan for safe operations and to prevent all accidents. We also aim to demonstrate leadership in transparent reporting," Mr Stangeland said.

"Equinor openly reports on all incidents, accidents and near-misses to continuously improve our safety procedures and outcomes, and to share learnings across the industry."

Equinor was a major international energy company operating more than 40 producing oil and gas installations and engaged in continuous exploration drilling and production in several countries, he said.

"Although we always strive to improve, in our 47-year history - with thousands of wells drilled - we have never had oil spill incidents from a well.

"By the time we start drilling we will have spent more than two years planning this well, to satisfy ourselves that we operate safely and in accordance with Australia's strict environmental and regulatory requirements.

"We have worked with some of the best marine researchers in Australia to understand the metocean conditions of the Bight and our world-class geologists to understand the area where our licence is located. All our science and experience tell us we can do this safely."

Mr Stangeland confirmed Equinor had formally submitted its Environment Plan (EP) for the proposed Stromlo-1 exploration drilling program in permit EPP 39 in the Great Australian Bight.

It will now be assessed by the independent regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), he said.

"NOPSEMA's assessment process is iterative and more than 90 per cent of all EPs receive at least one interim decision, to seek further information, before a final assessment is made," he said.

"Interim decisions can include a request for further time for the regulator to assess the EP; further written information or the opportunity to modify and resubmit the EP.

"Once all regulatory approvals are in place, Equinor plans to start drilling in the summer of 2020/2021. If oil or gas is discovered, it could provide a unique opportunity for jobs and economic growth for South Australia."