Media Releases - 18 December 2019

Equinor’s Bight approval will only escalate protests

  • Gobsmacking! NOPSEMA approves Equinor's oil drilling Environment Plan without Equinor consulting key stakeholders
  • Tens of thousands have protested against Equinor’s drilling plans around Australia
  • Vast majority of Australians oppose Bight oil drilling; Equinor’s plans trashes its reputation
  • The Wilderness Society will seek legal advice on legality of approval

Australian offshore oil and gas authority NOPSEMA has ignored the major concerns of the Australian community, coastal councils, experts, Traditional Owners and environmental groups by today approving Norwegian oil giant Equinor’s Environment Plan to drill for oil in the deep, rough waters of the Great Australian Bight.

Experts convened by Sydney University released a report this year that said: “Equinor has consistently made optimistic choices in order to convince the public and NOPSEMA that ‘it is safe' to drill … However, we saw a similar style of overconfidence demonstrated in BP's proposal to drill in the Gulf of Mexico, which led to one of the world's biggest oil spills in 2010.”[1] 

Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen said: “We are gobsmacked that NOPSEMA could approve Equinor’s plan that experts have slammed. The regulations state that Equinor must consult with relevant persons impacted by its plans, including local governments, Traditional Owners and environmental groups, but it refused to do so. The vast majority of Australians don’t want oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, and we will now be looking at our legal options to protect Australians from this risky and unwanted drilling.

“The Fight for the Bight is one of the biggest environmental protests Australia has seen, and this approval will only further mobilise community opposition. Australia’s biggest environmental protests, from the Franklin Dam to the Adani coal mine, have only escalated after approvals have been given. Tens of thousands of people have already protested against Equinor’s Bight plans all around Australia and even in Norway[2] and on a single day in November there were over 50 paddle out protests across the country.

“Opening up a new high-risk frontier oil field when we are hurtling towards catastrophic climate change is madness. Already this summer we have seen massive, seemingly endless bushfires and toxic smoke fill our cities. What sort of climate do we want to leave our children and our grandchildren?

“Equinor would be better off if it dropped its risky Bight plans before it damages the reputation of the company and Norway any further. Equinor changed its name from Statoil to promote its green credentials just last year but the Norwegian Government-owned company’s new brand now stands for bulldozing local communities in its relentless search for fossil fuels.

“Equinor should give up trying to steamroll the huge community opposition, including more than 20 southern Australian local governments representing more than 600,000 people, and recent polling shows that the majority of Australians and nearly 70 per cent of South Australians oppose drilling in the Bight.[3] “Everyone from billionaires Sir Richard Branson and Andrew Forrest to surfing world champions Stephanie Gilmore, Layne Beachley and Mick Fanning are opposed to drilling in the Bight.

“Ultra-deepwater oil drilling is a high-risk operation that caused the world’s biggest oil spill accident, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in 2010, when 800 million litres of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. Equinor’s drilling operations aren’t as safe as it would like to make out. Just a month after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, only luck saved Equinor-Statoil from a major disaster at its Gullfaks C platform in the North Sea.[4a 4b]  The Great Australian Bight waters are deeper, more treacherous and more remote than the Gulf of Mexico or the North Sea.

“Equinor’s oil spill modelling revealed that an oil spill from an uncontained blowout was guaranteed to impact the South Australian coast, and a spill could impact anywhere along much of southern Australia’s coast, from Western Australia right across to Australia’s east coast past Sydney and around Tasmania.

“The Great Australian Bight is a unique, pristine marine environment, with 85 per cent of its marine species found only in these waters[5]. The Bight is a haven for 36 species of whales and dolphins, including the world’s most important nursery for the endangered southern right whale. It’s the most important nursery for the endangered Australian sea lion and supports Australia’s biggest fishing industry. Equinor plans to drill in the incredibly biologically significant Great Australian Bight Commonwealth Marine Reserve.”

Oil spill modelling

South Australia’s coast can still get hit by a lethal oil spill from a blowout in Equinor’s proposed Stromlo-1 well even if Equinor can stop the flow with a blowout preventer in one day, its Environment Plan revealed.[6a 6b]

If Equinor needs its modelled 102 days to close the well, the resulting spill could impact anywhere along much of southern Australia’s coast from Esperance in Western Australia right across to Australia’s east coast past Sydney and around the major southern island of Tasmania.

South Australia’s coast would be guaranteed to be hit by an uncontained spill that would kill animals and close beaches even if Equinor uses toxic oil dispersants, possibly including Australia’s stockpiles of the highly toxic Corexit to the mix. Studies after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico showed that Corexit combined with oil is 50 times more toxic than oil itself.


Toxic dispersants do not clean up oil; they just break it into smaller droplets so it’s harder to see. The tiny blobs may travel farther and be more easily consumed by invertebrates, fish and birds.


Such a spill would cover more than 1000km of South Australia’s coast on average and hundreds of kilometres of Victoria’s coast. An umitigated spill would cover an average of 1097km of SA’s coast, 448km of Victoria’s coast and 357km of Tasmania’s coast. If Equinor uses toxic dispersants it would only cut the average length of affected coast to 878km in SA and 336km in Victoria.

South Australia’s coastal waters would be guaranteed to be hit by an oil spill that will close fisheries, while Victoria, Tasmania and NSW would more than likely be hit with a spill that will close fisheries (82%, 67% and 51% respectively). Even using oil dispersants, South Australia would still be guaranteed to have fishery closures and Victoria would have a 75 per cent chance.

For further comment contact:

Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen on 0423 550 018

For more information, contact Bight Alliance media adviser Alex Tibbitts on 0416 420 168