BP

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.

BP’s recent decision to pull out of a plan to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight has been dubbed “strategic” by the company’s exploration managing director, Claire Fitzpatrick.

BP finally announced in late December it had withdrawn its two environmental plans for exploration drilling two months after announcing it would ditch the controversial project.

Australia’s offshore oil and gas regulator, NOPSEMA, had already sent back BP’s application to drill in the Bight three times and was due to make a decision on its latest two submitted plans by the end of the year.

Chevron, Santos, Murphy and Karoon Gas still have exploration licences but will face the same massive costs and increasing community opposition that BP experienced.

BP announced on October 11 that it has abandoned plans for a $1.4 billion program to explore for oil in the Great Australian Bight, off South Australia.

The British petroleum giant said the decision, which delighted environmental groups, was made because the project was not economically viable. It said it would instead focus on projects it could exploit in the short-to-medium term.

The South Australian government has finally admitted that oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight is a risk, with two government reports highlighting the risks of spills and shipping and threats to marine life.

The Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure’s South Australian Marine Spill Contingency Action Plan admits: “The intended drilling activities increases both the South Australian and West Australian risk profile with respect to possible spills from the rig itself as well as an increase in shipping movements to and from the rig.”

The Senate will shine a much-needed spotlight on BP’s plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight after it voted for an inquiry into the matter. The inquiry will report back by May 12.

The Senate’s Environment and Communications References Committee will look into the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of BP’s planned exploratory oil drilling project and any future oil or gas production in the Great Australian Bight.

Sea Shepherd has announced it will join the Great Australian Bight Alliance to fight BP’s proposal to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight. They will join the Wilderness Society, Oil Free Seas Kangaroo Island, elders from the Mirning and Kokatha people and the Clean Bight Alliance Australia.

BP wants to drill four deep-water exploration wells between 1000 and 2500 metres deep, about 300 kilometres south-west of Ceduna. The Alliance fears an oil spill will have dire consequences for Australia's southern coast.

Australia's offshore oil and gas authority, National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) has rejected BP's application to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight on the grounds that its “environment plan does not yet meet the criteria for acceptance under the environment regulations”.

NOPSEMA had earlier said BP needs a comprehensive risk assessment and a comprehensive oil pollution emergency plan.

Protesters hold a banner opposing BP oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, in St Kilda beach on May 16. Photo: Chris Peterson

About 100 people rallied at Glenelg in Adelaide to protest against plans by oil company British Petroleum to explore for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

The fifth anniversary of BP's Macondo well explosion was marked on April 20. The explosion killed 11 rig workers and sent millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the worst offshore oil spill in US history.

Oil gushed from the site for 87 days, killing wildlife and prompting fishing bans. It also led to safety regulation standards intended to make the offshore oil and gas industry safer.

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