Australian regulator resumes review of Equinor’s Bight drilling plan

Australian offshore regulator, NOPSEMA, has resumed its assessment of Equinor’s Great Australia Bight offshore drilling plans following the oil company’s submission of further information regarding the plan. 

The Great Australia Bight; Source: Equinor

NOPSEMA said in a statement on Thursday that Equinor had provided the requested further information regarding the environment plan for the proposed exploration drilling activity in the Great Australian Bight.

In accordance with the environment regulations, NOPSEMA has resumed its assessment of the plan.

NOPSEMA has 30 days to assess the proposal and through its assessment will consider potential environmental impacts from the proposed activity to ensure appropriate precautions are taken.

However, the regulator can extend the timeframe of the assessment if additional time is required and it will only accept the environment plan once it meets the stringent requirements of the law.

Equinor released its draft environment plan (EP) for the proposed Stromlo-1 exploration drilling program in permit EPP 39 in the Great Australian Bight for public comment in late February 2019. It was the first time a draft EP for an offshore exploration well had been published before submission and assessment by the regulator.

The Stromlo-1 well location is situated 372 km off the coast of South Australia and 476 km west of Port Lincoln.

Equinor plans to spud the Stromlo-1 exploration well in late 2020. The well will be drilled using a mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) and the planned duration of the drilling is approximately 60 days. The preferred drilling period is between November and February when weather conditions are more conducive to fast and efficient drilling.

The public comment period for the draft environment plan was closed for submissions on March 21 and NOPSEMA received more than 30,000 submissions during the period.

The plan was officially submitted to the regulator in late April, which started its assessment, amid claims by environmental groups of it being too risky. Following Equinor’s submission, environmental organization Greenpeace said the plan to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight would be illegal in Norway.

In May this year, the Liberal Party of Australia informed it would commission an independent audit of NOPSEMA’s current consideration of exploration in the Great Australian Bight. The Liberal National Government said it had recognized the importance of the Great Australian Bight and the surrounding region to local communities, and the fishing and tourism industries.

At the same time, the regulator changed the deadline for making its decision on Equinor’s proposed drilling plan, postponing the decision for late June.

Come late June and NOPSEMA requested further information from Equinor on its GAB environment plan and gave the company a deadline of 60 days to submit it. During that time, NOPSEMA paused its review of the plan with plans to re-start once Equinor submits the additional information. Once this deadline expired, Equinor in August asked for more time.

Finally, Equinor provided the requested further information regarding the environment plan on September 18, 2019, and NOPSEMA resumed its assessment.

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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