Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil has taken over two exploration permits from BP and plans to begin drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight by late next year.
Statoil and BP have signed a swap agreement covering four offshore petroleum titles. Under the deal Statoil transferred its 30% equity in two of its permits to BP and exited the licences. In return, BP has given its 70% equity in two other permits to Statoil and relinquished those licences.
The National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator has approved the transfers and Statoil now holds 100% equity in those two permits. It has until October 30, 2019, to gain the necessary environmental approvals by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) before it can begin exploration drilling.
Statoil now joins oil companies Chevron, Santos, Murphy and Karoon in planning to drill in the Bight. BP announced in October it had abandoned plans to explore for oil in the Great Australian Bight, saying the project was not economically viable.
Statoil’s Australian spokesperson Jacques-Etienne Michel said the company aims to start exploratory drilling by late next year. “We will now take the necessary time to systematically work through all the preparations needed to drill safely,” he said.
“While we are building on the previous work done in these licences, our operational plans will have to be redeveloped.”
Michel acknowledged that there are environmental concerns over the project, including worries over potential oil spills in the rough waters of the Bight.
“We know that there are different views on our operations in the Bight and the next step is to go and visit the key stakeholders,” he said. “We will listen and learn about the key communities where we will be operating.” Michel said the consultation would occur over the coming months.
However, Greenpeace campaigner Jonathan Moylan said the drilling project would put the Bight’s valuable marine wilderness at risk.
“Statoil has come under scrutiny for a worsening safety record, including a doubling of the volume of oil spills from their Norwegian wells last year and fourteen major safety incidents in the past eighteen months,” he said. “[NOPSEMA] should not approve drilling in such a sensitive area by a company with such a track record.”
Moylan said the Bight experienced “some of the most extreme weather conditions on the planet” and “extreme deep-water drilling under such conditions is too risky”.
“Any spill would be catastrophic; as stochastic modelling done previously by BP has shown the devastating impacts would reach from Perth in WA to Eden on the NSW south coast.”
The Wilderness Society's South Australian director Peter Owen said oil and gas exploration should never have been allowed in the region and called on the state government to refuse to grant the change to lease conditions and work program requirements.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is also against drilling in the Bight.
"This is an opportunity to make sure we put to bed the idea of oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight," she said. "It's too dangerous, it's too risky, and it's going to end up being a disaster for South Australia's economy rather than a boom,” she said.