The fight for the Bight hits Norway

Frosty reception: South Australian surfer Heath Josken protesting in Oslo's Harbor. Photo: Hallvard Kolltveit.
Frosty reception: South Australian surfer Heath Josken protesting in Oslo's Harbor. Photo: Hallvard Kolltveit.

The campaign to stop oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight has gone international, with more than 500 people braving freezing waters and paddling out in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, in front of the city's iconic Opera House.

Last weekend, a small Australian delegation from the Great Australian Bight Alliance led by Wilderness Society SA Director Peter Owen and Aboriginal elder Bunna Lawrie, travelled to Norway to engage in discussions opposing drilling plans by Norwegian oil company Equinor, of which the Norwegian government holds a majority stake.

Last Thursday, the delegation met with the Sami (Norwegian Indigenous) people who have also been fighting against oil drilling in their own waters, as well as the youth wing of the Norwegian Labour Party who are concerned with Equinor's plans to drill in the Bight.

At the time of writing, the delegation is presenting their message directly to Equinor's board at their annual AGM, where shareholders will vote on a motion demanding Equinor cease such oil exploration.

This resolution is backed by a number of Australian and Norwegian organisations including Greenpeace Nordic, WWF, the Wilderness Society and the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility.

Last Sunday, the delegation along with over 500 Norwegians took part in the paddle out protest, which was similar to the event which took place in Victor Harbor earlier this year.

Protesters paddle: Australian and Norwegian protesters hitting the water in front of Oslo's iconic Opera House. Photo: Petter Foshaug.

Protesters paddle: Australian and Norwegian protesters hitting the water in front of Oslo's iconic Opera House. Photo: Petter Foshaug.

More than 10,000 people have now protested against Equinor's drilling plans for the Bight in the past two months.

"Equinor said it will not push through resistance so we are showing the company just how much resistance there is, not just in Australia but here in Norway too," said Wilderness Society SA Director Peter Owen.

"Equinor is majority owned by the Norwegian Government and the Norwegian people but many Norwegians are clearly as uncomfortable with their company's controversial Bight oil-drilling plans.

"Recent polling shows that 68 per cent of South Australians oppose drilling in the Bight, and only 16 per cent support it. Equinor's draft application to drill in the Bight attracted more than 31,000 submissions overwhelmingly in opposition, yet just 13 comments led to any changes to the final plan."

Member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie recently wrote to all 169 Members of the Norwegian Parliament to advise them of opposition within the Mayo electorate to Equinor's proposal to drill for deep-sea oil in the Great Australian Bight.

"In the past this company has stated they will not operate in our waters without social licence," said Ms Sharkie.

Equinor's Country Manager Jone Stangeland has previously stated that the organisation recognised a range of views on exploration in the Bight, had a decades long track record and that drilling would only go ahead if it could be done safely.

"We have held more than 130 meetings with local communities, councils, fishing industry associations and conservation groups to listen and learn about issues that are important in the region."

The peak national body representing Australia's oil and gas exploration and production industry, the APPEA has backed safe and effective oil exploration in the Bight.

Speaking to The Times in February, APPEA's Director of External Affairs Matthew Doman said there are risks that need to be managed but the industry has a "long and strong track record of doing that."

"There is no reason South Australia cannot have a safe, sustainable and successful offshore petroleum industry," he said.

"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.

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