UK-based BP has announced it is planning to begin deepwater drilling off southern Australia in late 2015 or early 2016 and will obtain a drilling rig by the end of 2013.

BP‘s Melbourne-based spokesman, Jamie Jardine, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that the first stage of the drilling programme in the Great Australian Bight was expected in 2011 to cost nearly AUD600m ($599m).

"We believe it to be a prospective area," Jardine added.

"It is unexplored, and as always in these unexplored areas you need to drill to unlock the geology."

The company, which received the permits from the Australian Government in January 2011, initially said it may start drilling in 2013 or 2014.

According to documents filed by BP with the Australian Government, it is seeking permission to drill in an area with water depths ranging from 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) to 2,500 metres.

"CSIRO said the area under consideration by BP is inhabited by great white sharks, whales, seals and dolphins."

In April, BP and the Australian Government’s Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) said they are jointly carrying out an AUD20m ($19m), four-year programme to study the impact of drilling on the environment of the Great Australian Bight.

CSIRO said the area under consideration by BP is inhabited by great white sharks, whales, seals and dolphins, and more than 85% of the species in the Bight are not found anywhere else in the world.

The company had secured four permits to explore oil in Australia less than a year after the major Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which is considered to be the worst in US history.

In 2011, former Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said exploration has to go on to boost Australia’s economy and energy security, despite opposition to new drilling after the Gulf disaster and the Montara spill off north-west Australia in 2009.

Image: Great Australian Bight Marine Park. Photo courtesy of Nachoman-au.