Great Australian Bight oil drilling proposal 'making waves in Norway'
By Helen Frost
A Norwegian MP has called for a state-owned Norwegian oil and gas company not to start drilling in the Great Australian Bight, while a scientist says noise from the project could hurt marine life.
- Norway MP raises issue of oil drilling in Great Australian Bight in Norwegian Parliament
- Norwegian company Equinor says drilling can be done safely in the Bight
- Consultation on drilling closes next week
The Norwegian Government has a 67 per cent majority stake in Equinor, which wants to start searching for oil off the coast of South Australia at a depth of almost 2.5 kilometres by the end of 2020.
It needs approval from the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority.
MP Kristoffer Robin Haug addressed the Norwegian Parliament last week and said going ahead with the project could see Norway become the enemy.
“Will the [Petroleum and Energy] Minister use this power as a majority shareholder in Equinor to instruct their company to stop their oil exploration in the Bight?” he asked.
James Cook University marine biologist Dr Jodie Rummer said the environmental testing framework that looked at the impact of drilling in the Bight needed to consider the effect of increased noise and human presence on marine life.
“We know from my research, even small boats and the noise that the motors make are disturbing fish and the way they develop,” she said.
“It increases the stress response quite a bit in fish, but we’re going on a much larger scale with some of the seismic testing that has to happen for this drilling.”
Dr Rummer said her research showed that even a few drops of oil in an Olympic-sized swimming pool could severely impact marine ecosystems.
“We’re seeing massive effects on behaviour and even physiological performance,” she said.
“Fish are not able to recognise predators, they’re not able to school properly, as many fish need to do in order to avoid predators, and that’s a very, very small concentration, so we don’t need a massive oil spill to cause those effects.”
International attention on Greens’ cause
The Norwegian Greens Party has also adopted the Australian Greens slogan “Fight for the Bight”.
South Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Mr Haug’s speech showed the fight was now receiving international attention.
“This is starting to cause problems and waves overseas,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
“People are questioning why Australia would put at risk our beautiful pristine areas.
“This is a whale sanctuary. This is an untouched wonderland. Why would we put this at risk?”
A leafy seadragon off Kangaroo Island in the Great Australian Bight. (Supplied: Richard Robinson/Greenpeace)
Stringent environment standards
The South Australian Government insisted that Equinor and its project would have to meet high standards.
“This proposal is being considered by national environmental safety regulators, and that decision rests at the local level,” SA Treasurer Rob Lucas said.
“The bottom line is it cannot proceed and won’t proceed unless the most stringent safety environmental standards are met.”
In response to the Norwegian MP’s call for drilling to stop, Equinor issued a statement today, saying after two years of research, consultation and preparation, its environmental plan (EP) showed it could drill safely in the Bight.
“Our draft EP is currently available to the public for review and comment until March 20, 2019,” Equinor Australian country manager Jone Stangeland said.
“We will take comments into consideration before updating our EP and submitting it to the independent regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, for assessment.”
According to a report commissioned by Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, Equinor’s plans to drill in the Bight could bring up to 1,500 jobs to South Australia over the next 40 years.