International energy company Equinor has released its draft environment plan to drill an oil exploration well in the Great Australian Bight and says the program can be done safely.
The assessment is a key step in the offshore exploration regulatory process but environment groups have already called on the federal government to stop the project, saying it would put thousands of kilometres of pristine coastline in grave danger.
Equinor says it 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.
“Over the last two years we have engaged with more than 100 different organisations in the South Australian community and they have consistently asked us to be open about our plans,” Equinor country manager for Australia Jone Stangeland said.
“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.”
But Greenpeace has described the project as reckless.
“Drilling in the Great Australian Bight, with its extreme depth and violent oceans, is dangerous and irresponsible,” Australia Pacific Senior Campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said.
“This place is Australia’s whale nursery, it’s populated by probably the highest concentration of dolphins in the world, and is home to more unique species than the Great Barrier Reef.”
In June 2017, Equinor became the operator and 100 per cent owner of offshore exploration permits EPP 39 and 40 located in the Bight.
Its proposed Stromlo-1 well is 372km off the coast of South Australia and 476km west of Port Lincoln.
Once all regulatory approvals are in place, Equinor plans to start drilling in the summer of 2020/2021.
If oil or gas is discovered, it could provide a unique opportunity for jobs and economic growth in South Australia, the company says.
Public comment on the plan can be submitted to NOPSEMA over the next 30 days.
International oil company BP dropped its own plans in 2016 for two exploration wells in the Bight.
BP said it had opted to concentrate its efforts on other projects but its decision came after modelling showed the potentially significant impact on the Australian coastline from a major and uncontrolled oil spill.