lThe Norwegian company Equinor is pushing ahead with plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight and has published its draft environment plan saying “drilling can be done safely”.
But environment groups have called for the federal government to reject the development, arguing the deepwater project would put pristine coastline and marine life at risk.
Equinor is not required to make its draft environment plan public before submitting it to the regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema).
But it has published the documents as part of a bid to create more transparency around the project and is taking public comment for 30 days, through Nopsema.
“Over the last two years we have engaged with more than 100 different organisations in the South Australian community and they have consistently asked us to be open about our plans,” said Jone Stangeland, Equinor’s Australian manager.
“This draft EP is the result of more than two years of careful preparation and our 1500-page plan demonstrates how we can drill safely and includes a robust emergency response plan.”
The company’s proposed Stromlo-1 well would be located 372km off the coast of South Australia and 476km west of Port Lincoln.
The draft plan sets out the company’s response to risks associated with the project, including the possibility of a major spill.
A map, produced from an amalgamation of 100 oil spill simulations, shows the potential for spills to hit coastline and ocean anywhere from Esperance in Western Australia, to areas around Sydney and the NSW coast, to Victoria and Tasmania.
The company says in its plan it had addressed concerns about the time it would take to install a capping stack in the event of a well blowout.
“Since the development of an earlier plan submitted to Nopsema, where it would have taken 35 days to install the capping stack, we have developed a plan that more than halves the deployment time to 15 days,” the draft plan states.
But environment groups said on Tuesday the project was too risky in rough seas off the Great Australian Bight. They also said the company’s consultation report, submitted as an appendix to the plan, appeared to show it had not properly consulted with some councils, traditional owners, the tourism industry or with environment groups.
The Wilderness Society’s South Australia director, Peter Owen, said release of the plan showed Equinor was “pushing ahead with its totally irresponsible plan to open up a new oil precinct in the pristine, deep and rough waters of the Great Australian Bight.”
“Fifteen southern Australian coastal local government have now voted their concern or opposition to oil drilling in the Bight,” Owen said.
“These councils represent some of Australia’s biggest tourism drawcards: Kangaroo Island, the Twelve Apostles, Bells Beach and the Great Ocean Road, as well as the home of the southern hemisphere’s biggest fishing fleet.”
Greenpeace Australia Pacific said the federal government should reject the project.
Nathanielle Pelle, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace, described the proposed drilling as “experimental” and “in exactly the same location that BP walked away from after disastrous spill modelling rocked their bid.”
“Drilling in the Great Australian Bight, with its extreme depth and violent oceans, is dangerous and irresponsible,” said Pelle.
“This place is Australia’s whale nursery, it’s populated by probably the highest concentration of dolphins in the world, and is home to more unique species than the Great Barrier Reef.”
Stangeland said Equinor had “met with any council that has asked to meet with us since we became the operator of licence EPP 39 – including those in South Australia and Victoria”.
“We have also met with the Wilderness Society and we are open to doing so again.”
He said they had met with more than 130 organisations in the community during the past two years and would continue to do so.