Norwegian oil company Equinor, formerly known as Statoil, has confirmed it will proceed with plans to drill an exploration well in the Great Australian Bight.
Equinor international spokesperson Erik Haaland said Equinor had lodged an application with the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator to extend the current permit year of EPP39 for a period of six months.
The current permit year ends on October 30, 2019.
“We are currently preparing our environment plan as required by Australian regulations,” Mr Haaland said.
“We will only undertake operations if it is safe and with the approval of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority.
“On this basis, we plan to drill one exploration well, estimated at 60 days, at the end of 2019.
“The application to extend the permit year to April 2020 is to provide us with operational flexibility.”
We plan to drill one exploration well, estimated at 60 days, at the end of 2019.Equinor international spokesperson Erik Haaland
Given the ocean depths of the test site, it has been suggested a floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) unit would be used for any actual oil extraction.
“It is too early to know what development solution would be used, a FPSO is a potential option,” Mr Haaland said.
“We are planning to drill one exploration well to see if there is oil or gas present. Our next steps will be informed by the results.”
Mr Haaland said the company understood some people opposed the proposed project but he hoped to work collaboratively with interest groups in the region.
“It is important to understand that the chance of a major oil spill is very low and we will not drill unless we can do it safely and with the approval of the regulator,” Mr Haaland said.
“Safety is our first priority and by the time we drill we will have spent two years planning this well.
“Before we start drilling, we must satisfy both the regulators – who have strict requirements – and ourselves that we can drill safely.
“As a leading deep-water operator, we will draw on 45 years of experience successfully operating in harsh offshore environments.
“We have done extensive research on the geology in the area and the metocean conditions, and found these are well within the range where we’ve safely operated before.
Australian Greens senator for South Australia, Sarah Hanson-Young, who initiated the Bight 2020 campaign, commented on the Equinor decision to go ahead with its test well.
“There is no time of year that drilling in the Great Australian Bight is worth the risk,” Ms Hanson-Young said.
“Southern right whales are calving in the Bight in the winter months.
“In summer, blue whales come to the Bight to feed and southern bluefin tuna are migrating.
“Not only would an oil spill devastate precious marine life, it would destroy South Australia’s coastal tourism and fishing industries.
“There is no social licence to drill in the Bight, not in October, not at any time of year.
“This project must not go ahead.
“The Bight deserves World Heritage protection, not being turned into the world’s oil field.”