Greenpeace queries regulator over Great Australian Bight oil exploration event


March 16, 2019 09:19:04

Greenpeace has questioned the independence of the national offshore oil and gas regulator, amid revelations the authority will speak at a Parliamentary dinner in favour of oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight.

Key points:

  • Equinor wants to start drilling in the Bight by the end of 2020
  • Greenpeace says “perception” of the regulator may be put at risk by attending the event
  • NOPSEMA says it regularly provides briefings to political representatives

South Australian MPs have been invited to attend a dinner on Tuesday night to hear about the potential for oil drilling in the Bight.

Norwegian drilling company Equinor 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.

Equinor and oil industry peak body APPEA will speak at the dinner, as will the head of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), Stuart Smith.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive David Ritter has sent a letter to NOPSEMA, concerned that the independent regulator’s “public perception” may be put at risk by speaking at the event.

He said the event “seemed to be designed to promote drilling in the Great Australian Bight” and it was not be appropriate for a representative from the regulator to attend.

“Australian and international integrity bodies have long raised concerns that close relationships between regulators and the industries they are regulating can lead to ‘regulatory capture’,” he said in the letter.

“Respectfully, in my view it is not appropriate for the chief executive officer of an independent regulator to actively participate in events that are set up to endorse the ‘opportunity’ related to activities that it is the authority’s role to independently regulate.”

‘Australian public will be shocked’

Greenpeace senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle told the ABC it was not appropriate for an independent regulatory body to attend an event spruiking potential drilling in the Bight.

“They should have meetings, they should meet with all stakeholders in these sorts of developments,” Mr Pelle said.

“What they shouldn’t do is appear at events that are there to promote one side.”

He said he expected Australians to be “shocked and disappointed” to learn of the regulator’s attendance at the event that “looks set to be a one-sided propaganda exercise”.

“The way this event is being promoted makes it sound like a foregone conclusion that Equinor’s dangerous, controversial and unpopular proposal to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight will go ahead,” Mr Pelle said.

“APPEA has published highly speculative and frankly pretty unjustifiable economic analysis of the apparent ‘opportunities’ in the Bight and NOPSEMA ought not to give tacit endorsement to the industry’s lines.

“The Australian public will be shocked and disappointed to know that Australia’s independent industry regulators are involving themselves in parliamentary dinners promoted by the companies they are meant to be regulating,” he said.

He said if NOPSEMA were interested in having a transparent and democratic discussion then speakers should have been invited from fishing, tourism and environmental industries, as well as local government and traditional owners.

Regulator has ‘no role in promotion’

In a statement to the ABC, NOPSEMA said it was invited to the bipartisan event by the SA Minister for Mining and it had regularly provided briefings to political representatives of all parties.

“The presentation NOPSEMA will give at the event will focus on the regulatory assessment processes we administer, and does not provide any commentary on resource exploitation or governmental views on the value of resources,” the statement said.

“NOPSEMA has no role in the promotion of resource-related industries nor the awarding of offshore titles for oil and gas activity.

“These functions fall to the Federal Department of Industry, and they will speak to them when appropriate.”

Last week, Norwegian Greens MP Kristoffer Robin Haug called for a stop to Equinor’s plans to start drilling in the Great Australian Bight during a speech in the Norwegian Parliament.

The party has also adopted the Australian Greens slogan “Fight for the Bight”.

At the time, 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.”

According to a report commissioned by Australian Petroleum Production and 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.












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