Regulator wants info on Bight oil plan

Tim Dornin
A new report has raised more doubt about Equinor's plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight

Norwegian energy company Equinor has been ordered to modify and resubmit an environmental plan to drill an oil exploration well in the Great Australian Bight.

The company has exploration rights on a site about 370 kilometres off the South Australian coast and first submitted its environmental statement on the drilling proposal in April.

After previously delaying a decision, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority on Monday again called on the company to provide more information on the consultation it conducted and on the risks posed by oil spills.

"The opportunity to modify and resubmit does not represent a refusal or rejection of the environment plan," the regulator said.

"This is a normal part of NOPSEMA's environment plan assessment process."

Equinor has 21 days to respond and can ask for more time.

It said it remained committed to drilling the exploratory well and to meeting all its regulatory requirements.

"Based on the industry's experience, we know NOPSEMA accepts only 10 per cent of plans on first submission," the company's Australian manager Jone Stangeland said in a statement.

"Equinor has always expected to work through an iterative process of resubmission before NOPSEMA accepts the environment plan.

"We continue to engage with stakeholders and local communities regarding details of our plans."

But Greenpeace said the company should simply abandon the proposal.

"This is the second time that NOPSEMA has asked Equinor to fill in the gaps in its drilling plan despite the company having more than two years and several attempts to get it right," Campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said.

"The communities of the Bight, traditional owners and the thousands of people in the seafood and tourism industries whose livelihoods depend on healthy oceans will never accept oil drilling in the Bight.

"Opposition today is greater than ever. Equinor's senior management needs to accept this reality and abandon its reckless plans for good."

Other environmental groups echoed Greenpeace's sentiments while Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said no amount of changes to the company's proposals could ever protect Australia's precious marine and coastal environment.

"The ecological and environmental significance of the Bight is priceless. Thousands of fishing and tourism jobs rely on it. It must be protected," the senator said.

If approved Equinor expects to begin drilling its Stromlo-1 exploration well in the summer of 2020/21.

In information released by NOPSEMA, the work is expected to take 60 days using a mobile offshore unit supported by three vessels and helicopters.

The well will not be cored or production tested for hydrocarbons and will be permanently plugged.

Equinor will then evaluate the results before considering whether to proceed with appraisal or further exploration.