The Wilderness Society South Australia has announced that it has commenced legal proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia to challenge the environmental approval recently granted by NOPSEMA (National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority) to Norwegian fossil fuel company Equinor to commence oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight Marine Park. The Wilderness Society is being represented by the Environmental Defenders Office and is a member of the Great Australian Bight Alliance.
NOPSEMA conditionally approved Equinor’s controversial ultra-deepwater Stromlo-1 exploration well proposed for the Bight on 18 December, in the lead up to Christmas.
Despite constant criticism, and unlike other companies such as BP and PGS, Equinor refused to formally consult the Wilderness Society South Australia or other environment groups, including those in the Great Australian Bight Alliance, on its plans. Equinor also refused to formally consult key Indigenous groups and local governments. These omissions are key to the organisation’s legal challenge.
“To be clear, this is not a step we wanted to have to take. We have engaged diligently and constructively via consultation with other fossil fuel companies seeking approvals in the Bight, including BP. We have engaged diligently and constructively with NOPSEMA. We have consistently requested that Equinor consults with us as an affected and relevant party,” said Wilderness Society South Australian Director, Peter Owen.
“It is patently clear that Equinor has refused to undertake best practice consultation, and it is our view that it didn’t even meet the basic regulatory requirements. Our view is that NOPSEMA made an important legal error in accepting Equinor’s substandard consultation,” said Mr Owen.
“My ancestors and I have looked after the whale, the land and the sea for 50,000 years. Equinor must consult with us,” said Bunna Lawrie, an elder of the Mirning people, Traditional Owners of the Bight.
“We don’t want Equinor to put our sea and our place of the whales at risk. We don’t want pollution causing destruction and poisoning our sea and land. I do not want my home, my tradition destroyed and lost forever,” said Mr Lawrie.
City of Holdfast Bay Mayor Amanda Wilson said: “We are extremely disappointed that our concerns of how an oil spill would affect our economy and environment were not taken into consideration by NOPSEMA.
“Glenelg is South Australia’s premier beachside tourism destination, with visitors contributing $274m to the State’s economy annually and employing 1766 people. Our 11km of pristine white sandy beaches in Holdfast Bay are a major drawcard for visitors and our local community and it’s our duty to protect them.
“The City of Holdfast Bay made a strong submission to NOPSEMA detailing our concerns and opposition to drilling in the Bight, and we are extremely disappointed that consideration wasn’t afforded during the consultation process to these concerns.”
“We should all be very concerned about the precedent Equinor and NOPSEMA have set here,” said Peter Owen. “That environment groups representing tens of thousands of members who are deeply and historically engaged in the management and protection of the Bight are not relevant. That Indigenous custodians with cultural values put at risk by offshore oil drilling are not relevant. That local governments responsible for coastal property, infrastructure assets and local communities are not relevant.
“We have no doubt that if Equinor had fully and legally consulted with these parties, its plans would have been better informed and more robust. Instead, it is our view that it now holds an invalid approval.
“The vast majority of Australians don’t want oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, and the Fight for the Bight is one of the biggest environmental protests Australia has seen. Tens of thousands of people have protested against Equinor’s Bight plans all around Australia and even in Norway, and on a single day in November there were over 50 paddle-out protests at beaches 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, heartbreaking and seemingly endless bushfires and toxic smoke fills our cities.
“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. Recent polling shows that the majority of Australians and over 70 per cent of South Australians oppose drilling in the Bight. Anyone can see that there’s no social licence for Equinor or any other company to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.”