Protests against oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight continue in Norway

Bight Protest: Wilderness Society SA Director Peter Owen and Aboriginal elder Bunna Lawrie outside Equinor's headquarters in Stavanger, Norway.
Bight Protest: Wilderness Society SA Director Peter Owen and Aboriginal elder Bunna Lawrie outside Equinor's headquarters in Stavanger, Norway.

An Australian delegation from the Great Australian Bight Alliance has spoken out against oil exploration, at Norwegian Oil company Equinor's AGM, in Stavanger, Norway.

At the meeting, held on Wednesday May 15, Equinor refused to reaffirm it would not push through resistance over its plans to drill for oil in the Bight, despite ongoing protests.

The delegation led by Wilderness Society SA Director Peter Owen and Aboriginal elder Bunna Lawrie, have been in Norway campaigning alongside Norway's indigenous Sami peoples, who are opposed to ongoing oil exploration by Equnior, of which the Norwegian government holds a majority stake.

Speaking at the AGM Wilderness Society campaigner Jess Lerch said Equinor was facing a big problem in Australia and that plans to drill for oil in the Bight were currently one of Australia's most controversial development projects.

"Seventeen local governments have passed motions raising serious concerns and oppositions to Equinor's exploration drilling plans in the Great Australian Bight," she said.

"Community protest is widespread, it is consistent, determined and it is becoming global."

She questioned Equnior's board over previous statements made by the company that suggested they would not push through community resistance.

Equinor executives faced further questions from both Australians and Norwegians, including Stavanger Liberal Party mayoral candidate Jan Erik Sondeland and Young Labour representative Jan Halvar Vaag.

Equinor chief executive Eldar Saetre addressed questioned after all shareholders had spoken and said "dialogue is a key value and really important for us... that's why we also met with a broad set of stakeholders."

Mr Owen said he was disappointed by Saetre's responses to questions, which "appeared to be a pre-prepared script rather than genuine answers to heartfelt and serious questions from a delegation that had travelled all the way from Australia."

Speaking to the AGM, Mr Owen said "over 85 percent of the animal and plants that are found [in the Bight] are found nowhere else on Earth. An accident here therefore would be an extinction event.

"Equinor has so much potential to be a leader with renewable energy solutions; that's a potential that Equinor needs to embrace and lead. We must stop the expansion of fossil fuels if we're going to have any chance of providing our children with a liveable climate."

As majority owner, The Norwegian Government voted down a motion at the AGM demanding Equinor cease oil exploration in sensitive areas such as the Bight.

This resolution had been backed by Australian and Norwegian organisations including Greenpeace Nordic, WWF, the Wilderness Society and the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility.

Equinor's Country Manager for Australia, Jone Stangeland said the company recognised that there were people opposed to its plans.

"Over the last two years we have travelled across South Australia and other states meeting with interested groups. So far, we have attended more than 130 meetings with more than 60 organisations," he said.

"We have heard from many people who were excited about the opportunities and jobs a discovery could bring to the region. We also understand that there are some groups who oppose our plans.

"We believe everyone is entitled to voice their opinion, but we encourage people to read our EP [environmental plan] and become informed about our plans for safe operations."

Mr Stangeland suggested there were some organisations "who continuously misrepresent both the risk and consequences of our planned activities."

Despite ongoing protests, he said Equinor remained excited by the business opportunity to explore the Bight.

"After two years of careful planning and community engagement, all our science and experience tells us we can do this safely with minimal impacts to the surrounding environment.

"As the world's leading deep-water operator, we will draw on more than 45 years of experience successfully operating in similar offshore environments."

In accordance with the licence terms set out by the Australian Government, Equinor is set to drill one oil exploration well in the Great Australian Bight before April 2021, once all the necessary safety and environmental regulatory approvals are in place.