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BP says it is determined not to take ‘no’ for an answer and will resubmit its application to drill in the Great Australian Bight off the continent’s southern coast.
The British oil giant had hoped to begin work on four exploratory wells in the region as soon as 2016, but Australia’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) said its environmental plan, or EP, submitted last month, doesn’t meet the standards required in the country’s environmental regulations.
The decision, announced Tuesday, was the second setback for BP’s plans for drilling in the Bight’s waters ranging in depth from between 1,000 and 2,500 meters. The agency had already delayed an initial decision on BP’s application in late October.
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A BP spokeswoman said the company has no intention of giving up on its plans and will submit a revised version of its application. “NOPSEMA is a diligent and thorough regulator and we expect to have to work hard and take the time to demonstrate that we have got our EP right,” she said.
The government of the state of South Australia agreed with BP’s description of NOPSEMA’s character, but one lawmaker, Sen. Nick Xenophon, who represents the state, said the rejection shows that BP’s plan includes unacceptable risks. He said he will introduce legislation giving the bureau the last word in protecting the Bight’s environment.
“It appears to be an accident of history that NOPSEMA has no ministerial oversight for decisions as vital as letting exploration drilling into the Great Australian Bight,” Xenophon said.
Xenophon’s proposal is opposed by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, an industry group, which said the agency should not be hampered by political interference. Australia’s Greens, however, are expected to support it. They cite BP’s “shocking” environmental record.
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“BP clearly hasn’t learned from their disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill five years ago,” said Sen. Robert Simms, a Green who also represents South Australia.
The Deepwater Horizon, operated by BP, was a huge rig operating in the gulf off the coast of Louisiana. It exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and leaking an estimated 134 million gallons of crude oil into the gulf before it was capped 87 days after the explosion. It was the worst oil disaster in U.S. waters.
The Wilderness Society says a similar blowout in the Bight would endanger South Australia’s annual $313 million fishing industry and its draw for coastal tourism valued at about $1 billion a year. The environmental group says an accident would also poison waters that serve as habitat for several species of whales, as well as sea lions and other maritime creatures.
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“The Great Australian Bight is a haven for whales, boasting the world’s most significant southern right whale nursery as well as many humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales,” said Peter Owen, the South Australia Campaign Manager of the Wilderness Society.
Last month the group issued a report saying an oil spill in the Bight could close all Australian fisheries from South Australia east to Tasmania.
The oil industry sees the Bight differently. BP says the region’s geology is similar that that of other areas that contain enormous amounts of energy, including Africa’s Niger Delta and the United States’ Mississippi Delta.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com