Equinor faces delay in Bight drilling plans

OIL RIG: An aerial shot of Equinor oil rig Songa Enabler in the Arctic. Source: Greenpeace.
OIL RIG: An aerial shot of Equinor oil rig Songa Enabler in the Arctic. Source: Greenpeace.

Norwegian oil giant Equinor has had its plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight stalled, following the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority's (NOPSEMA) request for further information on Equinor's environment plan for their proposed petroleum exploration.

NOPESEMA's assessment of Equinor's plans was halted for a 60 day period on June 27 and will only recommence when Equinor submits additionally required information.

The request for additional information was made in order to clarify matters raised in the plan and to address information gaps identified by NOPSEMA's specialist team assessing the plan.

NOPSEMA, who's primary roll is the prevention of major accident events offshore, does not comment on the specifics of environment plans under assessment.

Honouring its late-stage election commitment, the federal government has also announced an independent audit of NOPSEMA's consideration of Equnior's plans to drill in the Bight, to be carried out by the Chief Scientist.

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan said the Bight was important to the fishing and tourism industries, and local communities deserved assurance of its protection.

"Australia's offshore oil and gas industry has maintained a strong operational record while powering our domestic industry and export sector for decades," Minister Canavan said.

"Australians deserve to be confident that all offshore oil and gas activities meet stringent regulations. This audit will seek to provide assurance that all environmental risks and impacts of the proposed activity are taken into account."

The Chief Scientist's audit will run in tandem with NOPSEMA's assessment process and he has been asked to report by the end of August 2019.

Wilderness Society SA Director, Peter Owen has criticised this move and said the Chief Scientist's audit could not possibly start until Equnior produces its finalised plan for NOPSEMA.

"It's impossible for the Chief Scientist to audit Equinor's Environmental Plan until it's finalised," he said.

"NOPSEMA has already given Equinor two months to supply more information because the plan is not up to scratch.

"How can the Chief Scientist complete an audit within that time frame when NOPSEMA does not have enough information to assess the plan?

"The audit must run independently from NOPSEMA. It should examine why Equinor refused to consult with stakeholders on the coast such as local governments as required by the regulations when Equinor's oil spill modelling showed that an oil spill could impact anywhere along much of southern Australia's coast, from Western Australia right across to Australia's east coast past Sydney and around Tasmania."

Mr Owen suggested the Chief Scientist consult with a number of stakeholders during his audit including Traditional Owners, local councils and environmental groups, as well as experts convened by the University of Sydney.