Head of the Bight South Australia by Sascha Grant via Creative Commons.

Experts ask authority to hold oil giant to account on Bight plan

22 May 2019
A group of energy and natural resource experts, led by the University of Sydney, is calling on Australia's regulator to hold Norwegian oil company Equinor to account over its proposal to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

In late April, the University’s Sydney Environment Institute convened a group of experts from academia and industry to consider key issues around drilling in the Bight.

Based on this, these experts have made a pro-bono submission to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

NOPSEMA is currently assessing Equinor’s Environmental Plan submission to ensure it meets all legislative requirements to proceed.

However, in the submission, the experts call on NOPSEMA to go one step further and hold Equinor to international best-practice standards.

The submission was co-authored by University of Sydney energy and natural resources law expert Dr Madeline Taylor, with Emeritus Professor Andrew Hopkins (Australian National University), Greg Bourne (Australian Climate Council Council and former President of BP Australia), and Professor Tina Soliman-Hunter (Aberdeen University Centre for Energy Law).

In the submission, the experts say that Equinor’s “overconfidence” in its ability to prevent a major spill could lead to catastrophic environmental impacts.

“Throughout the environmental plan, Equinor has consistently made optimistic choices in order to convince the public and NOPSEMA that ‘it is safe’ to drill,” they write.  

“However, we saw a similar style of overconfidence demonstrated in BP’s proposal to drill in the Gulf of Mexico, which led to one of the world’s biggest oil spills in 2010.

“History has shown us that overconfidence precedes catastrophic failure in many spheres of engineering endeavour. No matter how many layers of defence there are between a hazard and an accident, accidents can and still do happen.”

Recommendations from the submission include that NOPSEMA:

  • Require Equinor to carry out consultations with selected coastal communities and with other interested parties falling under the definition of ‘relevant persons’ within the applicable  regulations;
  • Request Equinor consult with all ‘relevant parties’ in accordance with the ‘leading’ regulatory practice of allowing no less than three months for public comment;
  • Secure the public release of Equinor’s Well Operations Management Plan (WOMP);
  • Require that Equinor’s wells are inspected during construction, operations and workover stages and compared to the approved WOMP to ensure that the well meets the approved WOMP;
  • Ensure Equinor has demonstrated that it has learnt and implemented important lessons from BP’s Gulf of Mexico blowout in 2010, particularly in identifying the human and organisational causes of that blowout;
  • Require that Equinor comply with Norway’s world-leading best-practice regulatory standards of drilling in the Bight;
  • Require that Equinor adequately address protection of the 41 threatened species within the drilling area, by considering how both direct and indirect impacts will be reduced to ‘as low as reasonably practicable’; and
  • Displace the American Petroleum Industry standards with the leading Norwegian NORSOK D-010 standard and adopt a ‘long-term perspective’ in assessing Equinor’s Environmental Plan for the benefit of all Australian citizens.

Read the full submission.

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