Equinor continues with Bight plan after regional meetings

Equinor says it is committed to collaborating with communities and local industries as it continues to develop its Great Australian Bight oil exploration project.

Company representatives spoke at the Ceduna District Council’s August meeting and also at Regional Development Australia Whyalla Eyre Peninsula’s (RDAWEP) board meeting in Streaky Bay last week.

The Streaky Bay meeting was attended by a group of about 40 people protesting against Equinor’s plan, who also expressed concerns about the lack of opportunities for community consultation, citing a last-minute withdrawal from a public meeting at Port Lincoln and that they were declined a public gallery in Streaky Bay.

Elliston resident Tim Jones said there needed to be more accountability and consultation with the community.

“Equinor’s policy to avoid public debate and large group meetings is clearly designed to avoid robust public debate, but succeeds in ticking the community consultation box,” he said.

“This is not acceptable to a broad section of the community who were expecting more forthcoming opportunities with Equinor to learn and discuss further.”

Mr Jones said those with concerns needed to voice their opinion and government policy needed to be questioned through state and federal politicians, and by keeping pressure on NOPSEMA (National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority).

He said the concerns most people had about oil exploration could not be answered by Equinor representatives in Australia.

“It is imperative that any concerns the public has are forwarded to Equinor’s head office in Norway, and, more importantly, to the Norwegian public who own 67 per cent of the company,” Mr Jones said.

RDAWEP chief executive officer Dion Dorward said it was regular policy to close board meetings to the public.

Mr Dorward said RDAWEP had advised Equinor, and the oil industry in general, to consult with other industries and communities and to be as transparent as possible.

“Equinor presented more about themselves and the plans for the Bight, and we were told more about their compensation scheme, which was good to hear,” he said.

“We understand people’s thoughts, we all live and work in the region with people who have various views on the matter.”

An Equinor spokesperson said since taking control of the exploration permit they had undertaken extensive engagement activities.

“We have met with local communities, councils, fishing industry associations and conservation groups to listen and learn about issues that are important in the region, including RDA last week,” the spokesperson said.

“We appreciate there are a range of views on exploration for oil and gas.

“We have met people who are keen to understand about safe operations as well as many people that are keen to understand the potential for jobs and other opportunities that a commercial discovery would bring.”

Equinor is still to submit its environment plan to NOPSEMA, but hopes to commence its project before the end of 2019.

They said drilling would only occur if it could do so safely.

Equinor’s spokesperson said the company had spent two years planning the project to satisfy themselves in order to operate safely and in accordance with Australia’s strict environmental and regulatory requirements.

Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) director of external affairs Matthew Dorman said while oil amounts for commercial use had not previously been discovered in the Bight, there was confidence it could be tapped.

“The project will only go ahead if it meets NOPSEMA’s high environmental standards and we don’t assume that will be the case, but are hopeful approvals would be obtained,” he said.

“Equinor want to get started on exploration and keep up the engagement with the community – the RDA meeting was an example of that, and there have been meetings addressed in Port Lincoln, while Equinor met with the Ceduna council.

“Equinor said the aviation supply base BP built at Ceduna would be used, so there are clear opportunities for people in Ceduna from the start, even if not much from the beginning, but once there is full-scale development then investment and opportunities would increase.”

Ceduna mayor Allan Suter said the council meeting deputation provided the council with a good amount of background information.

“As the process goes along further council may need to take a position in regards to drilling,” he said.

“For now it is a matter for NOPSEMA and most, including me, believe it is a fiercely independent body – if they don’t approve then it shouldn’t go ahead and if they do, that’s a healthy sign it is a sensible program.”

Equinor’s draft environment plan will be published online and will be available for public comment for a period of four weeks.