Media Releases - 16 May 2019

Great Australian Bight bites at Equinor AGM


  • Equinor faces Bight opposition and questions at AGM from Australians and Norwegians
  • Equinor refuses to rule out pushing through opposition to Bight drilling plans
  • Over 10,000 have protested against Equinor’s drilling plans in Australia, hundreds in Oslo  
Photo: Wilderness Society SA Director Peter Owen and Mirning elder Bunna Lawrie in Oslo

Norwegian oil giant Equinor refused to reaffirm it will not push through resistance to its controversial plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight at its annual general meeting in Stavanger yesterday.

The Equinor executives faced loads of opposition and questions on the Bight from both Australians and Norwegians, including Stavanger Liberal Party mayoral candidate Jan Erik Sondeland and Young Labour representative Jan Halvar Vaag.

Wilderness Society Climate Campaigner Jess Lerch addressed the AGM: “There is a big problem for your company in Australia. Equinor's plan to drill the Stromlo well in the Great Australian Bight is currently one of Australia’s most controversial development projects. Seventeen local governments have passed motions raising serious concerns and oppositions to Equinor's exploration drilling plans in the Great Australian Bight. Community protest is widespread; it is consistent, determined and it is becoming global.

“In July last year, the Port Lincoln Times reported that Equinor made the following statement in relation to Equinor's exploration plans in the Great Australian Bight: ‘If we are not wanted here, we will not push through resistance.’ Can I please ask the board: does that statement accurately reflect the company's current position in relation to this project?”

Equinor chief executive Eldar Saetre would not address questions until all shareholders had spoken and then addressed the Bight with a general statement.

Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen said: “I was disappointed that Mr Saetre’s response to questions appeared to be a pre-prepared script, rather than genuine answers to heartfelt and serious questions from a delegation that had travelled all the way from Australia. The response did not fit with the action within the meeting.”

Mr Owen earlier told the meeting: “Over 85 per cent of the animal and plants that are found [in the Bight] are found nowhere else on earth. An accident here therefore would be an extinction event.

“Equinor has so much potential to be a leader with renewable energy solutions; that’s a potential that Equinor needs to embrace and lead. We must stop the expansion of fossil fuels if we’re going to have any chance of providing our children with a liveable climate.”

Mr Saetre said: “Dialogue is a key value and really important for us… That’s why we also met with a broad set of stakeholders.”

That broad range did not include Mirning elder and whale songman Bunna Lawrie, who also travelled to the AGM as part of the Great Australian Bight Alliance delegation.

“I am a whale songman, an elder, a protector of the ocean and a keeper and custodian of the whale people in the Great Australian Bight,” Mr Lawrie told the meeting. “Consultation is very important to us, but Equinor did not come to me and the elders, the Traditional Owners of that country, the people of the whale, the keepers of the whale and that’s been very disrespectful to us. None of those people came to talk to us about our country and we are hurt by it… There will be no oil company allowed to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight; we will not allow it.”

The majority owner of Equinor, the Norwegian Government, voted down a motion at the AGM demanding Equinor cease all oil exploration in sensitive frontier areas such as the Bight. The resolution was backed by a wide array of Australian and Norwegian organisations including the Wilderness Society, Greenpeace Nordic, WWF, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility and the alliance, which includes Sea Shepherd, the Surfrider Foundation, outdoor clothing group Patagonia and many local groups and Traditional Owners.

Greenpeace Norway Finance Campaign Director Martin Norman said: “Sometimes it is embarrassing to be a Norwegian. The fact that Norway, as the majority shareholder in Equinor, voted against our very sensible proposal to protect vulnerable and pristine areas such as the Great Australian Bight and the high Arctic is shameful. Like Shakespeare would have said, something is rotten in the state of Norway.”

Streaky Bay fisherman and ex-pro surfer Heath Joske told the AGM: “The fisherman of South Australia are extremely concerned… Surfers from all over Australia are extremely concerned. They have banded together in a way that we have never seen worldwide.

“The Bight is a sacred playground for Australian surfers, as has been shown in the paddle outs. A paddle out is traditionally a show of respect to elders passed, but since your draft environmental plan was released it has been used as a show of protest against your plans every single weekend. The numbers are growing and up to 10 paddle outs have taken place during a single day … from southern Western Australia to coastal Queensland. Every community that stands up encourages us locals that we are not fighting this alone.

“Not only does a spill threaten our identity, but the implications of the project proceeding do too. We cannot afford to open a frontier field and continue to mindlessly abuse oil for many decades to come. Our oceans and planet simply cannot sustain that pressure and abuse.”

The Bight Alliance delegation, which also included Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility Executive Director Brynn O’Brien, has had extensive meetings in Norway with Equinor executives, senior officials from the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, political parties including the Greens, Socialists and Labour, and Norway’s indigenous Sami people.

More information

For further comment, please contact Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen on +61 423 550 018.
Click here for more information, images and footage of the Bight and Gulf of Mexico or contact Wilderness Society Media Adviser Alex Tibbitts on +61 416 420 168.
AGM video | Oslo protest pics