Report highlights Equinor concerns

New research from Greenpeace Australia has shown Equinor's safety incident rate has doubled over the past year, however the company says it is committed to working in a safe manner.

According to Greenpeace, the increase in incidents came off the back of a marked increase in the rate of safety problems at its facilities across a three-year period.

It said Equinor had registered a total of 63 incidents, including a loss of well control incident, fires, oil spill, gas leaks and equipment failures.

The report was released just before the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) asked Equinor to modify and resubmit the environment plan for its Great Australian Bight oil drilling program.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said Equinor made bold statements about its commitment to safety but already had more accidents this year than in any of the past three.

"The record points to a trend of negligence toward the safety of workers and the environment at Equinor facilities and a serial unwillingness to rectify problems identified by the Norwegian Safety Authority that should serve as a warning to the Australian regulator, NOPSEMA ," he said.

"Despite being warned by the Norwegian authorities, Equinor's facilities are possibly more unsafe today than they were three years ago.

"Given the Bight's extreme remoteness and lack of any safety infrastructure for thousands of kilometres, what's really terrifying is how many of these incidents could have been much worse in slightly different circumstances."

Equinor's country manager for Australia Jone Stangeland said the company believed any oil spill was unacceptable and it worked hard to plan for safe operations and to prevent all accidents.

He said Equinor also aimed to demonstrate leadership in transparent reporting.

"Equinor openly reports on all incidents, accidents and near-misses to continuously improve our safety procedures and outcomes, and to share learnings across the industry," he said.

"We report all spills down to half a litre, which can be at our refinery.

"In our 50-year history, we have never had an oil spill from an exploration well and we drill 30 to 40 exploration wells every year."

Mr Pelle criticised Equinor's approach to safety in its Bight environment plan and how it plans to respond to any potential incidents.

"Equinor has downplayed the risk and ruled out locating critical safety equipment in the Bight, such as a support rig, to help in the event of an incident saying it is too expensive to do so," he said.

"Equinor's cost-cutting in the Bight, which wouldn't pass Norwegian safety standards, could mean help might not arrive in time to prevent an incident escalating into a major environmental catastrophe."

The Greenpeace report said in the three-year period, Equinor experienced nine incidents related to worker safety, plus it was responsible for 10 oil spills and gas leaks, suffered six fires, had three well control incidents and was cited by Norway's Petroleum Safety Authority for 51 "non-conformities".

Mr Stangeland said Equinor remained committed to the opportunity to explore the Great Australian Bight and would continue to engage with stakeholders and local communities to share details of its plans.

"Once all regulatory acceptances are in place, we plan to start drilling in the summer of 2020-21 in compliance with the terms set out by the Australian government," he said.