Resistance Continues Against Opening of Great Australian Bight to Oil Infrastructure

by Lisa Cox / The Guardian

The government has released a new acreage for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight that green groups says should have been kept off limits after it was cancelled by BP.

The permit is one of two that BP cancelled after the company abandoned its plans for oil and gas drilling in the bight in 2016. Its remaining two permits were sold to the Norwegian oil and gas multinational Statoil.

On Tuesday the government released 21 new acreages that petroleum companies will be able to bid for across six basins off Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and the Ashmore and Cartier Islands.

The announcement came as protesters gathered outside the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association’s annual conference in Adelaide to oppose new oil and gas drilling in the bight. Later on Tuesday, Kangaroo Island’s mayor, Peter Clements, was speaking at Statoil’s annual general meeting in Norway to highlight community opposition to the project.

The Wilderness Society said on Tuesday that the government was “acting insanely in trying to push oil and gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight” in waters that were pristine and where development was risky.

“The pristine, treacherous waters of the Great Australian Bight are a completely inappropriate place for risky deep-sea oil drilling, especially as we hurtle towards catastrophic climate change,” said its South Australia director, Peter Owen.

“Seven South Australian local governments have passed resolutions raising serious concern with proposed oil drilling, citing unacceptable risk to their communities: risks to the tourism industry, the fishing industry and the pristine coastline.

“Governments must represent the interests of the people they are elected to govern for, not damaging fossil fuel companies. There is no social licence for oil and gas exploration in the bight.”

A Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner, Nathaniel Pelle, said any company that planned new exploration and drilling would face fierce opposition from local councils, the fishing industry, tourism operators and green groups.

“BP and Chevron have left,” he said. “Statoil, if it persists, is going to face a fight from all stakeholders and any company that chose to bid on any new acreage in the Great Australian Bight is going to face the same opposition.”

The federal resources minister, Matt Canavan, said the acreage release was part of the government’s commitment to meeting Australia’s future energy needs.

“The Australian government is committed to the safe and responsible development of oil and gas resources,” he said. “Offshore oil and gas exploration is vital to meeting Australia’s future energy needs.”

The government is dividing the new titles into separate bidding rounds over the next 10 months. Bids for the acreage in the bight would not close until 2019.

The government is also conducting a review of its acreage release process.

Pelle said environment groups had concerns about the process through which titles were awarded, including that some past bids had been won by companies with no experience in deep-sea drilling.

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