Regulator NOPSEMA again rejects Equinor plan to drill in Great Australian Bight

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.

Australia's offshore oil and gas regulator has for a second time rejected Norwegian company Equinor's plan to drill in the Great Australian Bight west of Kangaroo Island.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) on Friday, November 8 issued a notice to Equinor requiring them to modify and resubmit their environment plan for proposed drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

Equinor must provide NOPSEMA with further information about matters relating to consultation, source control, oil spill risk, and matters protected under Part 3 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Greenpeace says the regulator highlighted shortcomings across all major aspects of Equinor's plan including preventing an accident, oil spill risk, consulting relevant persons and managing threats to the Bight's unique marine life.

"This is the second time that NOPSEMA has asked Equinor to fill in the gaps in its drilling plan despite the company having more than two years and several attempts to get it right. BP was rejected multiple times, then it gave up its plans to drill the Great Australian Bight. Equinor should do the same," Greenpeace Australia Pacific Senior Campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said.

"There is no safe way to drill in the Great Australian Bight but Equinor chose to cut corners to save money and presented a plan that wouldn't even meet basic safety standards back in Norway.

"It cut corners despite its own modelling showing an oil spill could reach towns and beaches anywhere from Western Australia to Port Macquarie. That Equinor is pursuing risky projects like this during a climate crisis - even as they lower safety standards - is an embarrassment.

"Equinor will never have a safe plan because drilling in the Bight is exceptionally dangerous and any oil they find is unburnable if we are to limit global warming in line with the Paris Agreement."

The Australia Institute, South Australia says the project doesn't make sense economically for South Australia.

"Australia Institute research has shown that South Australia stands to gain just one tenth of one percent of total state revenues from the project over its 40 year lifetime," said Noah Schultz-Byard, director of The Australia Institute, South Australia.

"We already know that 60 per cent of Australians and 68 per cent of South Australians are opposed to opening up the Bight for oil drilling.

"Australia Institute research demonstrates more than 10,000 South Australian jobs in coastal tourism, fisheries and aquaculture rely on the Bight and our healthy oceans to survive. A significant oil spill in the Great Australian Bight would be a disaster for the South Australian economy.

"Accelerating the transition to renewable sources of energy, rather than opening up new fossil fuel frontiers makes sense both in terms of tackling climate change and for South Australia's economy."

Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen said: "To be clear, the community has already resoundingly disapproved of Equinor's risky plans to drill for oil in deep, rough waters of the Great Australian Bight.

"Equinor's continued push to gain the regulatory's approval won't change that and it should drop this farce before it damages the reputation of the company and Norway further.

"Equinor changed its name from Statoil to promote its green credentials just last year but the Norwegian Government-owned company's new brand now stands for bulldozing local communities in its relentless search for oil."

Equinor now has 21 days to reapply for ask for an extension.

"The opportunity to modify and resubmit does not represent a refusal or rejection of the environment plan," read a statement issued by NOPSEMA.

"This is a normal part of NOPSEMA's environment plan assessment process. NOPSEMA is required by law to provide titleholders a reasonable opportunity to modify and resubmit their plan if it doesn't meet the regulatory requirements for acceptance.

"Through the iterative assessment process under the Commonwealth Environment Regulations, NOPSEMA previously requested further information from Equinor on 27 June 2019 to input into its environment plan.

"Equinor has 21 days to respond to NOPSEMA's request to modify and resubmit its environment plan. However, Equinor may request an extension to this timeline."

For more information on the Stromlo-1 Exploration Drilling Program: