Three Things You Need to Know About the Greenpeace Report on the Great Australian Bight

Concerned about Greenpeace’s latest report on the possible impact of a spill in the Great Australian Bight? You shouldn’t be. We’ve compiled the facts which help put everything in context.

1. The images do not represent a scenario. They show simulations that are not a reality. It is not possible for this to occur.

The images in Equinor’s Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (OPEP) don’t represent a realistic scenario, but the combination of 100 different extremely unlikely worst-case scenarios where no intervention action is taken.  While Greenpeace has been quick to assert that this document “should be the final nail in the coffin for Bight drilling,” this is a standard process required by Australian regulation. The simulations are produced so that operators can demonstrate that they have robust response arrangements in place and can respond to any incident. Risk management is a routine part of environmental plans for any project.

Furthermore, the scenario in which a spill could reach Bondi—while it makes great headlines—is premised upon Equinor taking no action in the wake of a major spill, which obviously would not happen.   Developing emergency response plans in which all scenarios are considered is not evidence that these scenarios are going to happen, but instead, evidence that the company takes every precaution to protect the environment.

Equinor’s environmental plans will only be accepted if the company can demonstrate to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) that the environmental risks and impacts have been reduced to a level that is ‘as low as reasonably practicable’ (ALARP) and acceptable.

NOPSEMA requires that operators adhere to the highest standards of environmental management, safety management, and community consultation.  If NOPSEMA does not grant approval, no wells will be drilled. This regulatory system has been effective so far, as evidenced by the fact that the Northwest Shelf off the coast of Western Australia has been drilled for over 30 years with no significant incident. And offshore South Australia, 12 exploration wells have been drilled in the Bight already – most recently by Woodside in 2003 – again without incident.

2. Industry was not trying to ‘hide’ the document

The OPEP is repeatedly referred to in the press as a “leaked” document, which leads readers to believe that industry was trying to hide it.  In reality, the OPEP is only in its draft stages and when it is finished it will be released on the company’s website and on NOPSEMA’s website.  At that time the plan will be made publicly available for comment.

3. Beware of comparisons to the Deepwater Horizon Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

This is a go-to comparison for any group agitating against the exploration and development of the Great Australian Bight.  But there are several differences between the proposed drilling in the Bight and the drilling which resulted in the Deepwater Horizon spill.  For example, the Deepwater Horizon rig was located approximately 60 KM from the shore while the well that Equinor hopes to drill is about 400 KM from shore.

Concerns about rough seas in the Bight and Equinor’s ability to handle such conditions ignore Equinor’s 45-year history in the harsh conditions in the North Sea. More than 6,000 wells have been offshore Norway and no well incidents have resulted in pollution to the coastline. The Norwegian Sea, north of the North Sea, has stronger winter winds and waves than the Great Australian Bight.

Under NOPSEMA’s watchful eye, and because oil companies carefully plan and plan for worst case scenarios just as Equinor did, there haven’t been any spills of magnitude reaching the coast in the Bass Strait or in Western Australia since the first offshore well was drilled in 1965.