Equinor excited by oil drill in Great Australian Bight

Bight Protest: Wilderness Society SA Director Peter Owen and Aboriginal Elder Bunna Lawrie alongside protesters outside Equinor's headquarters in Stavanger.
Bight Protest: Wilderness Society SA Director Peter Owen and Aboriginal Elder Bunna Lawrie alongside protesters outside Equinor's headquarters in Stavanger.

Norwegian oil company Equinor remains excited by the opportunity to explore the Great Australian Bight, despite ongoing community and political opposition to their plans.

A spokesperson for the company, in which the Norwegian government holds a majority stake, said it recognised there were groups in opposition to its plans.

Equinor's Country Manager for Australia, Jone Stangeland, said the company had spent the last two years travelling South Australia 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."

At Equinor's recent AGM in Stavanger, Norway, shareholders were given the floor to express their views and a delegation from the Great Australian Bight Alliance, also attended to have their voices heard.

The delegation led by Wilderness Society SA Director, Peter Owen and Aboriginal Elder Bunna Lawrie, were in Norway campaigning alongside Norway's indigenous Sami peoples, who are opposed to ongoing oil exploration by Equnior.

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."

Two shareholders made proposals to refrain from exploration and production activities in frontier settings, including the Great Australian Bight, which the shareholders voted against.

Mr Stangeland 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," he said.

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

Included in Equinor's Environment Plan is a description of the existing environment in the licence area, and an assessment and description of relevant risks and measures that will be put in place to avoid and mitigate impacts on the environment.

According to Wilderness Society SA Director, Peter Owen, recent polling shows that 68 percent of South Australians oppose drilling in the Bight, and only 16 percent 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," said Mr Owen.

Member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie also 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.

Mr Stangeland reaffirmed that Equinor would only go ahead with drilling plans if they could be conducted safely.

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

"We have collaborated with the CSIRO to study the local environment and this is taken into account in our plans. Our exploration project is also designed to protect the interests of fishing, aquaculture and tourism industries.

"As the world's leading deep-water operator, we will draw on more than 45 years of experience successfully operating in similar offshore environments. The fjords in Norway are still clean, our fisheries are thriving, tourism is booming, and we have created thousands of jobs and funded billions of public spending through taxes.

"We will bring the same technology, expertise and care to Australia. Our draft environment plan documents the richness of the Bight, but also demonstrates we can operate there safely."

Mr Stangeland also said there was potential to diversify South Australia's economy if oil or gas was discovered in the Bight.

"Our planned drilling activity is short, so there are limited opportunities for contractors or employment at this early stage," he said.

"There are strong indications that there might be oil in the Bight, and if there is, we believe it could diversify South Australia's economy, as discoveries in the Bass Strait have done for Victoria."