Australia’s major political parties have announced plans to commission independent assessments of Norwegian energy company Equinor’s plans for drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

The company’s proposed exploration drilling project is in the Stromlo-1 well, located in the EPP 39 licence 372km offshore South Australia.

Equinor is the operator and 100% equity owner of offshore exploration permits EPP 39 and 40, both located in the Great Australian Bight and covering approximately 12,000km2.

Equinor’s operations in the Bight have been met with strong opposition, with thousands protesting in March 2019 over concerns including potential disruptions of the Bight’s natural ecosystems and the potential environmental damage of an oil spill.

The Liberal Party of Australia stated that, if re-elected, it will commission an independent audit of Australia’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Authority’s (NOPSEMA) current consideration of Equinor’s planned operations.

This audit will be commissioned by Minister of Resources Matthew Canavan and Minister for the Environment Melissa Price, who will ask chief scientist Alan Finkel to work alongside NOPSEMA to ensure all environmental considerations are accounted for in Equinor’s plans.

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By GlobalData

Equinor submitted its environment plan (EP) to NOPSEMA in April 2019 after releasing the draft EP for public comment in February 2019, the first time a draft EP for an offshore exploration well was published before assessment by NOPSEMA.

In a statement, the Liberal Party said: “The Liberal-National Government recognises that the Great Australian Bight and the surrounding region are important to local communities, and the fishing and tourism industries. The region is known for its unique environment and deserves strong protection.

“The Liberal-National Government recognises community concerns around drilling in the Great Australian Bight and community groups are seeking further assurance of environmental protection.”

The Australian Labour Party has also promised action regarding the Bight, stating that one of its first actions, if elected, will be to commission an independent study into the environmental impact on drilling in the Bight.

In a statement, the Labour Party said: “The purpose of the study will be to help inform the decision making of the independent regulator. It will be an independent scientific study to increase the capacity of the independent regulator to properly make an assessment.

“The study will report before the project is approved. Every resources project needs to stack up environmentally and financially.”

The Labour Party’s decision has been welcomed by Greenpeace. Greenpeace senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said: “The ALP has clarified and strengthened its position in the days leading up to the Federal election by effectively committing to a moratorium on drilling in the Bight until an independent scientific study into the impacts of drilling is completed.

“A stay of execution is welcome. But it’s clear a total ban on drilling in the Bight is warranted.

“We already know from modelling produced by BP and Equinor that an oil spill could reach any point on the southern Australian coastline from Western Australia to Coffs Harbour in Northern New South Wales.”

The statements from Australia’s Liberal and Labour parties come ahead of the Australian federal election on 18 May to elect members of Australia’s 46th parliament.