A controversial plan to start drilling operations in the Great Australian Bight by the oil giant Equinor has been abandoned, the company said. Environmentalists have hailed this as a “huge win”.
Permission to begin exploratory drills in seas off South Australia was granted last December to the Norwegian company.
The company however told regulators on Tuesday that the drilling plan was “not commercially competitive” in comparison to its options elsewhere.
The withdrawal was disappointing, said the Australian government.
It is believed that the Great Australian Bight is one of the most unspoiled marine environments in the world. Despite the continuous protests by green groups for decades to protect the region, Canberra has been willing to allow companies to drill and bring out possible oil in the region.
Prior to this move by Equinor, competitors BP, Chevron and Karoon Energy had also abandoned plans form drilling in the area since 2016.
Environmental activists and some lawmakers, who had opposed the project arguing drilling for oil in the region could threaten wildlife and the climate, have welcomed the decision taken by Equinor. Over the past year, thousands of people joined protests against the project in Australia and Norway while the issue was raised with the company’s board by activist shareholders.
Better opportunities for new fields elsewhere were revealed in a review of its global exploration portfolio, Equinor said on Tuesday. “Equinor has decided to discontinue its plans to drill the Stromlo-1 exploration well, as the opportunity is not commercially competitive,” it said in a statement.
Situated roughly in the middle of Australia’s vast southern edge, the Great Australian Bight is a large open bay. It is home for sea lions, dolphins and penguins while whales come there to give birth.
This proposed drilling project was also at the center of a battle between an alliance of anti-drilling protesters and the global resources sector.
Work on an exploratory well about 400km or 248 miles out to sea at a depth of around 3km was expected to be started by Equinor later this year.
The site had been termed as “an internationally significant frontier” in the search for oil by industry representatives and compared it to the Niger Delta and the Gulf of Mexico.
However the threat of an oil spill and a resultant ecological disaster were cause of worry for the campaigners.
“There are more unique species there than on the Great Barrier Reef,” Greenpeace activist Jamie Hanson told me recently. Containment of an oil spill will not be possible for Australia, he added.
While such risks now have fizzled away for now, the campaigners are still demanding permanent protections to be implemented for the region.
The decision of Equinor would be seen by many as “extremely disappointing” for economic reason, Australia’s government said.
It was very important for Australia to better its own oil security, said one Australian legislator.
“We used to be self-sufficient but now we rely heavily on imported oil,” tweeted Senator Matthew Canavan.
(Adapted from BBC.com)