Norwegian-based oil and gas company Statoil has announced plans to explore in the Great Australian Bight, sparking renewed calls for the area to be protected from drilling.
The company has signed an agreement to take over two exploration permits from BP and, while it still requires regulatory approval, hopes to have a first well drilled by the end of October 2019.
It has also given up its 30 per cent equity in two further licences held by BP and says the deal is in line with Statoil’s global exploration strategy of targeting high-impact opportunities.
It promises to discuss its plans with a wide range of stakeholders, including the South Australian community, in the coming months.
But SA Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the state government must stand with coastal communities and the tourism and fishing industries in protecting the Bight.
“This highly sensitive area is home to some of the most incredible marine life in the world and the repercussions on the environment and the thousands of jobs that rely on local fishing and tourism industries could be catastrophic if drilling for oil were to go ahead,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
Statoil said the deal with BP had strengthened its position in a promising, though unproven, basin.
“We have a good understanding of the geology in our licence area, based on high-quality 3D data analysis,” vice-president of exploration in Australasia Pal Haremo said.
“We believe there could be an active petroleum system within our permit area and we are now positioned to test this potential under favourable market conditions for exploration drilling.”
In December BP scrapped its own plans to drill exploration wells in the Bight, declaring the project would not deliver enough reward on investment.
That also followed the company’s modelling detailing the environmental impact of a well blow-out which showed oil on the sea surface could travel up to 2650 kilometres and almost certainly reach large sections of the South Australian coastline.
BP’s decision to scrap its plans for the Bight project drew criticism from South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis, who said the company had walked away from a promise to invest $1.4 billion in the program.
But environmental groups welcomed BP’s decision and called on the federal government to rescind all future drilling leases in the Bight.