Equinor plans to use Ceduna facility as a base for Great Australian Bight operations

Equinor representatives visited Ceduna on Wednesday to inspect the aviation base it plans to use as a hub should it receive approval for a drilling exploration program in the Great Australian Bight.

Equinor's country manager Jone Stangeland and exploration manager Camilla Vatne Aamodt toured the facility built at Ceduna Airport by BP before it abandoned its Bight drilling program in 2016.

They were given an inside look at the facility by mayor Perry Will and the council's finance manager Ben Taylor.

Mr Stangeland said the Ceduna base, 400 kilometres south west of the Stromlo-1 exploration site, fit the purpose of Equinor's operations. 

Workers would be transported to the rig from the Ceduna hub.

"Of course we are very focused on safety, and I know we will have visits ahead from our experts within flight safety to look at the facilities, to make sure everything is according to the standards we set for having helicopter operations from this location."

The exploration program is expected to last up to two months.

Mr Stangeland said exploration would be the "start of some activity" in the region and, if oil or gas was discovered, could lead to greater involvement.

"People involved in the operation need to stay in a place, they need food, they need services, and that will last for a dedicated period for this activity," he said.

"We hope that we will find oil or gas and then this will progress into new phases."

The second phase will be drilling more wells if oil or gas is discovered, followed by development and production phases.

He said the company estimated the first phase could bring in $1 million into the Ceduna region.

Members of the public have 30 days to comment on the draft plan, which can be submitted to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environment Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

Equinor will take the feedback into consideration before updating its environment plan.

Mr Stangeland said the company utilised this approach as a result of its many community meetings.

"We have had a lot of meetings with communities and organisations, I think more than 130 over the last two years, and that has been good and I think a lot of the questions have been about openness and transparency with regard to our activities, in particular related to the environment plan," he said.

"We want to give people the opportunity to view the plan and provide comments before we submit it to NOPSEMA."

Mr Stangeland said the initial feedback to the plan's release had been positive.

He said Equinor representatives would return to the region in the coming weeks for further discussions with councils and communities.

Critics of the drill program have expressed concern for the wellbeing of species who call the Bight home and the environmental and economic effects of a potential spill.

Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen said ultra-deepwater drilling caused the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the waters of the Great Australian Bight were more treacherous and more remote.

"Equinor's own oil spill modelling showed a spill from an ultra-deepwater well blowout in the Great Australian Bight could impact anywhere along all of southern Australia's coast, from Western Australia right across to Victoria through Bass Strait to NSW and around Tasmania," Mr Owen said.

"A spill could hit Adelaide in 20 days and could hit Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island in 15 days."

Mr Stangeland said there would be a number of emergency procedures in place to deal with a spill.

"We recognise there are a lot of different views and understand there are some uncertainties and we will follow up during the coming period," he said.

"We want to continue the dialogue and provide facts about our operation, I think it is very important to understand how we will operate, how we will protect the environment. 

"The capping stack is one measure that we will use and it was great for us to say we have reduced the time for bringing the capping stack from where it's located to the drilling location from 35 days to 15, but there are other measures."

He said Equinor would have a blowout preventer on top of the well and all emergency response equipment located on the field.

Mr Stangeland said 13 wells had already been drilled in the vicinity of Equinor's site over a number of decades, with ever-improving safety and technology along the way.

He said the company had taken data from other wells into account, as well as conditions faced closer to home in the North Sea.

Equinor hopes to receive approval for the plan from NOPSEMA in the third quarter this year, with a plan to undertake the exploration program in late 2020.