Equinor waves 'bye' to Bight oil exploration plans

Norwegian oil company Equinor has announced it will no longer go ahead with its exploration drilling plan for the Great Australian Bight.

The company said on Tuesday it would not proceed with its plan in the Stromlo-1 exploration well, located 400km south-west of Ceduna.

In a statement, Equinor's Australia country manager Jone Stangeland said the company had reviewed its exploration portfolio and decided the project's potential was not commercially competitive compared with other exploration opportunities.

"The approval of the Stromlo-1 exploration well environment plan confirmed our ability to safely operate in the Bight. However, Equinor has decided to discontinue its plans to drill the Stromlo-1 exploration well, as the opportunity is not commercially competitive," Mr Stangeland said.

He said the company had told federal, state and local authorities of its decision.

"We will engage with the federal and state authorities regarding our decision to discontinue the exploration program," he said.

"We hold an exploration permit off Western Australia and will maintain other ongoing interests and activities in Australia."

Alexandrina Council mayor Keith Parkes, City of Victor Harbor mayor Moira Jenkins and District Council of Yankalilla mayor Glen Rowlands agreed the decision was a positive one for the Fleurieu's environment and economy.

Mr Parkes said it was a "brilliant outcome". "We are thrilled the pristine environment of the Great Australian Bight is no longer at risk from Equinor's deep-sea drilling plans. Now we need to keep pushing for permanent protection. I fully support the call for the Great Australian Bight to become a World Heritage Area," he said.

Dr Jenkins saw it as a win for the "people of Victor Harbor who want to preserve the pristine beauty of this area".

"The decision has been contributed to by the voices of many individuals. It shows when the community stands together for something, it is important and it shows we can contribute to change. The economic viability of Victor Harbor and the Fleurieu coast is dependent on the green, clean image, and oil drilling in the bight has the potential to impact that. The future of our planet depends on us; we need to start looking at green energy and reducing fossil fuels and energy sources that continue to pollute," she said.

National offshore oil and gas regulator NOPSEMA had conditionally approved Equinor's plans to conduct exploration drilling in the bight on December 18, 2019, but in January the Wilderness Society SA launched a legal challenge against the approval in the federal court.

Group director Peter Owen welcomed the "responsible" decision.

"It has been a while coming, but the right decision is the right decision and we have no doubt that the hundreds of thousands of people who have supported the campaign to Fight for the Bight will be both delighted and relieved to hear this news. We are now calling on the Australian government to listen to the people and permanently protect the unique waters of the bight from drilling for good," Mr Owen said.

Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie said communities in southern Australia, including the coastal areas of Mayo, "stand to lose so much from an oil spill disaster".

"The news is a win for our environment and the families and small businesses in our community who rely on the beauty and bounty of our oceans for their livelihoods. But now the government must step up and provide greater protections for the bight. We need national heritage listing for the bight because the oil and gas is still there. If we do not have robust protections for this pristine environment, it will be under constant threat from other companies seeking to drill there," she said.

South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy chief executive officer Rebecca Knol was "disappointed" with the decision.

"Sadly, this is a lost economic opportunity for South Australia during a period where the state is pursuing an ambitious three per cent growth target," she said.

"The public campaign waged against Equinor deliberately overstated risk and ignored the significant benefits of the project at a time when Australia's oil production has fallen significantly in the past decade and we now import more than 80 per cent of the oil we use."