Chevron has become the second big oil company to abandon plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight off the South Australian coast, a year after BP cancelled its plans to drill.
Oil companies say the Bight has similar potential to the Gulf of Mexico, site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, which was the largest marine oil spill in history and killed 11 people.
Fears of a similar oil spill in the Bight is one of the reasons the oil companies’ push to exploit the region has come up against such determined opposition. The Bight’s pristine waters are vital breeding and feeding grounds for many marine mammals, including 36 species of whales and dolphins.
Chevron acquired two deepwater exploration permits in 2013 and had planned to drill four wells, but it never submitted an environmental plan to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Agency (NOPSEMA). BP’s environmental plans were rejected by NOPSEMA three times, as each time it failed to meet seven of the eight requirements.
Chevron said its decision to pull out had nothing to do with government policy, regulatory, community or environmental concerns, but was purely related to the low price of oil.
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association said Chevron’s move was disappointing, as oil production in the Bight would ease Australia’s reliance on imports. But any oil produced would most likely be shipped to Asia because of the lack of refining capability in Australia.
After BP withdrew from the Bight, it transferred its licences to Norwegian oil company Statoil, which plans to drill one exploration well before the end of 2019. Chevron said its drilling licences could also be sold to another party.
Environmentalists have hailed Chevron’s decision as a victory and urged other companies looking at the Bight to abandon their plans.
Peter Owen from the Wilderness Society said: "I don't think the Great Australian Bight is an appropriate place to be trying to turn into an oil field. It's very deep water, it's very rough water, it's extremely remote, and it's also one of the most significant whale nurseries on the planet."
“Chevron has worked out what BP realised when it withdrew from the Great Australian Bight a year ago. It’s too expensive to establish the significant and costly risk-management and clean-up capacity needed to protect our communities from the enormous spill risks associated with drilling in this part of the world.
“Statoil and others should quit the Bight and leave the communities surrounding the Bight in peace.”
Sea Shepherd Australia’s managing director Jeff Hansen said: “We should not be expanding the fossil fuel industry into pristine treacherous seas where the risk of spills is far greater than we’ve seen before. A rapid transition away from this industry is our only hope for a liveable climate for our children.”
Greenpeace Australia spokesperson Nathaniel Pelle said: “The news Chevron has given up on drilling in the bight means the coastal communities of southern Australia have dodged another bullet, but the threat of Statoil still looms.
“Chevron’s announcement shows the only sane thing to do is for the federal government to terminate all oil leases in this area, reform our national oil regulations to world’s best practice, and move quickly to protect one of the world’s most biodiverse regions and the communities that surround it.”