Photo: From left: Bunna Lawrie—Mirning Elder, Amanda Wilson—City of Holdfast Bay Mayor, and Peter Owen, Director of the Wilderness Society South Australia. Image: Tony Lewis

Equinor faces legal challenge over Great Australian Bight drilling plans

Norwegian oil and gas company Equinor is facing a legal challenge over its offshore drilling plans in the Great Australian Bight following a legal action by an organization looking to protect wilderness areas.

From left: Bunna Lawrie—Mirning Elder, Amanda Wilson—City of Holdfast Bay Mayor, and Peter Owen, Director of the Wilderness Society South Australia. Source: The Wilderness Society South Australia/Image: Tony Lewis

The Wilderness Society South Australia said in a statement on Wednesday it had started legal proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia to challenge the environmental approval recently granted by NOPSEMA (National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority) to Norwegian Equinor to begin oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

The Wilderness Society is being represented by the Environmental Defenders Office and is a member of the Great Australian Bight Alliance.

The Australian offshore regulator conditionally approved Equinor’s plan for the ultra-deepwater Stromlo-1 exploration well located in the Bight on December 18, 2019. However, Equinor needs two more approvals before the activity can begin.

Equinor’s proposed well is located approximately 400 km southwest of Ceduna and 476 km west of Port Lincoln and in a water depth of approximately 2,240 meters. The petroleum activity will occur anytime between October and May during the three years validity period from 2020 to 2022. No drilling will take place between June to September inclusive.

The duration of the drilling of the Stromlo-1 well is expected to be approximately 60 days, with the drilling planned to begin in late 2020.

According to the Wilderness Society’s statement, despite constant criticism, and unlike other companies such as BP and PGS, Equinor refused to formally consult the Wilderness Society South Australia or other environment groups, including those in the Great Australian Bight Alliance, on its plans.

The organization stated that Equinor had also refused to formally consult key Indigenous groups and local governments and these omissions are key to the organization’s legal challenge.


‘Regulator made an important legal error’


Wilderness Society South Australian Director, Peter Owen, said: “We have engaged diligently and constructively with NOPSEMA. We have consistently requested that Equinor consults with us as an affected and relevant party.”

“It is patently clear that Equinor has refused to undertake best practice consultation, and it is our view that it didn’t even meet the basic regulatory requirements. Our view is that NOPSEMA made an important legal error in accepting Equinor’s substandard consultation,” said Owen.

“My ancestors and I have looked after the whale, the land and the sea for 50,000 years. Equinor must consult with us,” said Bunna Lawrie, an elder of the Mirning people, Traditional Owners of the Bight.

“We don’t want Equinor to put our sea and our place of the whales at risk. We don’t want pollution causing destruction and poisoning our sea and land. I do not want my home, my tradition destroyed and lost forever,” said Lawrie.

City of Holdfast Bay Mayor, Amanda Wilson, said: “We are extremely disappointed that our concerns of how an oil spill would affect our economy and environment were not taken into consideration by NOPSEMA.

Wilson added: “The City of Holdfast Bay made a strong submission to NOPSEMA detailing our concerns and opposition to drilling in the Bight, and we are extremely disappointed that consideration wasn’t afforded during the consultation process to these concerns.”

Peter Owen said: “We have no doubt that if Equinor had fully and legally consulted with these parties, its plans would have been better informed and more robust. Instead, it is our view that it now holds an invalid approval.

“The vast majority of Australians don’t want oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, and the Fight for the Bight is one of the biggest environmental protests Australia has seen. Tens of thousands of people have protested against Equinor’s Bight plans all around Australia and even in Norway, and on a single day in November there were over 50 paddle-out protests at beaches across the country.

“Opening up a new high-risk frontier oil field when we are hurtling towards catastrophic climate change is madness. Already this summer we have seen massive, heartbreaking and seemingly endless bushfires and toxic smoke fills our cities.

“Equinor should give up trying to steamroll the huge community opposition, including more than 20 southern Australian local governments representing more than 600,000 people. Recent polling shows that the majority of Australians and over 70 per cent of South Australians oppose drilling in the Bight. Anyone can see that there’s no social license for Equinor or any other company to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.”

Offshore Energy Today Staff

Spotted a typo? Have something more to add to the story? Maybe a nice photo? Contact our editorial team via email.

Also, if you’re interested in showcasing your company, product, or technology on Offshore Energy Today, please contact us via our advertising form where you can also see our media kit.