Equinor presses on with plans for exploration drilling in Great Australian Bight

Norwegian energy company Equinor has 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.

Great Australian Bight; Source: Flickr; Author: Mark Gillow – under the CC BY 2.0 license

Equinor Australia is the sole titleholder of exploration permit EPP39, located in the Ceduna Sub-basin in Commonwealth waters off southern Australia. The water depth at the location is approximately 2,240 meters.

Equinor said on Tuesday that the plan details its activity and all the measures to be put in place to avoid and mitigate impacts on the environment. According to Equinor, the plan concludes drilling can be done safely.

This is the first time a draft EP for an offshore exploration well has been published before submission and assessment by the regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

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 EP activity period for drilling the Stromlo-1 well is between October 1 and May 31. Once accepted, Equinor will be permitted to drill the Stromlo-1 well during a five-year validity period of the EP. Drilling the Stomlo-1 well outside the activity period will not be permitted under this EP.

“Over the last two years we have engaged with more than 100 different organizations in the South Australian community and they have consistently asked us to be open about our plans. We have listened, and today we are releasing the complete draft EP for our offshore exploration well,” said Jone Stangeland, Equinor country manager for Australia.

For a period of 30 days, public comments to the draft EP can be submitted directly to the regulator, NOPSEMA.

“We have made the draft EP available to members of the community and we will take all comments into consideration before updating our EP and submitting it to the independent regulator.

“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 EP documents the existing environment in the Great Australian Bight and describes all relevant risks, however unlikely. By identifying every possible risk, we can better prepare for safe operations,” Stangeland said.

In June 2017, Equinor took over BP’s 70% equity interest and became the operator and 100 percent equity owner of offshore exploration permits EPP 39 and 40 located in the Great Australian Bight.

Equinor also said on Tuesday that, once all regulatory approvals are in place, it plans to start drilling in the summer of 2020/2021.

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


BP’s exit from the Bight


It is worth reminding that BP, before it swapped its interests in offshore exploration permit EPP39 and EPP40 for interests in EPP37 and EPP38 with Equinor, had planned to drill four wells at the Great Australian Bight but the drilling program was rejected by the offshore regulator. BP then submitted another drilling program, proposing to drill two wells, the Whinham-1 and Stromlo-1.

All the while, the project had been under fire from the environmentalist groups, such as Greenpeace and Australian Greens. The environmentalists had claimed that drilling in the area containing a marine park would threaten marine life, fisheries, and eco-tourism operators.

In the end, BP in October 2016 gave up on its drilling program in the Great Australian Bight, citing a new upstream strategy with focus on opportunities likely to create value in the near to medium term as the reason behind its abandonment.

In October 2017, Chevron also ditched its Great Australian Bight exploration program due to its inability “to compete in the current low oil price environment.” Chevron denied that its decision had anything to do with the government policy, regulatory, community or environmental concerns, pointing out that it was a commercial decision.

Commenting on activities in the Bight, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, representing the Australian Greens, said last year: “Another year, another company trying to drill for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight. After BP and Chevron were chased off by a passionate, grassroots campaign, Norwegian company Equinor (formerly Statoil) is throwing their hat into the ring.

“The oil and gas industry has been out in force, trying to spruik the so-called ‘benefits’ of plans to drill in the Bight, in preparation for Equinor to lodge their application to drill for oil in this precious marine environment.

“Yet we know the profits and the product would go offshore – and in the case of an oil spill, our tourism and fishing industries will be irreversibly destroyed.

“Not only that, but it chains us to damaging fossil fuels at a time when we need decisive action on climate change and a serious transition to clean energy.

“In April, we launched the Bight 2020 campaign, a push to see the Great Australian Bight given World Heritage protection. Thousands of South Australians have been following the campaign that urges the government to nominate the Great Australian Bight in the February 2020 round of submissions to the United Nations.”

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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