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January 23, 2020

Equinor faces legal challenge over Great Australian Bight oil drilling

The Wilderness Society has launched legal action against NOPSEMA over its approval of oil drilling plans made by Equinor in the Great Australian Bight.

By Himaja Ganta

The Wilderness Society has launched legal action against NOPSEMA over its approval of oil drilling plans made by Equinor in the Great Australian Bight.

The Environmental Defenders Office is representing the Wilderness Society, which has membership of the Great Australian Bight Alliance.

Last month, Nopsema accepted Equinor’s environment plan for exploratory petroleum drilling in the Great Australian Bight for the ultra-deepwater Stromlo-1 exploration well.

Equinor needs to clear four regulatory hurdles before it can begin drilling, of which this represents the second.

Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen said: “To be clear, this is not a step we wanted to have to take. We have engaged diligently and constructively via consultation with other fossil fuel companies seeking approvals in the Bight, including BP.

“We have engaged diligently and constructively with Nopsema. We have consistently requested that Equinor consults with us as an affected and relevant party.

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“It is patently clear that Equinor has refused to undertake best practice consultation, and it is our view that it didn’t even meet the basic regulatory requirements. Our view is that Nopsema made an important legal error in accepting Equinor’s substandard consultation.”

The Stromlo-1 well is 2.2km deep in water and nearly 400km off the southwest of Ceduna. It is 372km south of the coast and 476km west of Port Lincoln.

At the time of the approval, the regulator said that it had imposed stringent conditions. These include limits on when activity can take place and regular public reporting on environmental impact. This will ensure high-level protection to the Great Australian Bight environment.

In November last year, Nopsema ordered Equinor to resubmit its environmental plan for the proposed drilling project in the Great Australian Bight. It asked the energy major to provide more information on its consultation with affected groups. It also requested information on the risks posed by oil spills.

In September 2016, Wilderness Society urged Nopsema to refuse BP’s application to drill in the Great Australian Bight.

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