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NOPSEMA approval of Equinor’s environment plan

18 December 2019

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan has welcomed today’s announcement by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) that Equinor’s environment plan for exploratory petroleum drilling activity in the Great Australian Bight has been accepted.

This is another step in the regulatory process for Equinor prior to being able to drill its exploration well. Since Equinor were first granted the exploration permit in 2011, the company has undertaken a rigorous and very public process of consultation and approvals process. If Equinor gains the further approvals required, this will be the 14th well drilled in the Bight and the first since 2003.

Minister Canavan said Australia’s robust offshore regulatory regime ensured oil and gas activities were undertaken safely and were environmentally responsible.

“I have full confidence in NOPSEMA, Australia’s independent, expert environmental and safety regulator,” Minister Canavan said.

“Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO completed his audit in September this year and found NOPSEMA to be a highly skilled, professional and competent regulator with the appropriate processes and procedures in place to assess environment plans.”

NOPSEMA’s environment plan assessment process involves comprehensive and detailed consideration of the impacts and risks to the environment from the proposed activity.

Its thorough assessment of Equinor’s environment plan, including reviewing more than 30,000 submissions, took almost eight months following a public comment period. 

NOPSEMA has imposed stringent conditions on the approval to ensure a high level of protection to the environment in recognition of the region’s unique values and sensitivities. The conditions include:

  • placing limits on the time of year the activity can take place,
  • requiring regular public environmental performance reporting during the activity and,
  • mandating that additional rigs capable of drilling relief wells be in Australian waters prior to commencement.

These conditions ensure the highest level of protection for the marine environment, including commercial fisheries and protected species.

NOPSEMA has also published a report on the key environmental matters relevant to the activity, available at https://info.nopsema.gov.au/environment_plans/463/show_public

Equinor must now seek acceptance of its well operations management plan and safety case before any drilling activity can occur.

Minister Canavan emphasised the great potential for a new major petroleum basin to be opened up.

“In a continent as large as ours I hope we can find another oil and gas province to replace the Bass Strait,” he said.

“The Great Australian Bight is relatively unexplored but considered to be highly prospective for petroleum resources, with potential to provide significant economic benefits and help strengthen our fuel security as a nation.

“Around 20 years ago we had 96 per cent of our petroleum produced domestically in a raw product form – now we can only meet about half of our petroleum needs from domestic sources of production.

“An Acil Allen report found if petroleum is discovered in the Bight, a development less than half the size of the Bass Straight would create 1,361 full time equivalent jobs in South Australia during construction and generate $1.7 billion in state and Commonwealth taxes every year.

“That means new business opportunities, new hospitals, new schools and new infrastructure for South Australia.

“Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry has maintained a strong operational record while powering our domestic industry and export sector for decades. Hundreds of oil and gas wells have been drilled safely around the coast line and thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars of economic benefit have been generated by the industry since the first offshore well was drilled in 1965.

“The Bass Strait has produced around 4 billion barrels of oil and eight trillion cubic feet of gas safely and environmentally responsibly since that first well was drilled.”

Media contact: Minister Canavan's office 02 6277 7180