BP abandons plans for marine oil field to rival 'the Gulf of Mexico'


In a victory for environmentalists, oil giant BP announced Tuesday it would not proceed with its plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight.

It was a significant reversal for the company, which had once suggested the region could become an oil field to rival the Gulf of Mexico, the Guardian reported.

"That territory could be something like the Niger Delta or Mississippi Delta, so it's of interest to the world, not just Australia and BP," head of BP Australia Andy Holmes told the Australian in 2014.

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The Great Australian Bight is located off the south coast of Australia. It's home to threatened species such as the Australian sea lion and blue whale as well as industries such as tourism and fishing that rely on a pristine marine environment.

BP was awarded exploration licences for the region in 2011.

BP claimed the backdown was decided for business reasons. "We have looked long and hard at our exploration plans for the Great Australian Bight but, in the current external environment, we will only pursue frontier exploration opportunities if they are competitive and aligned to our strategic goals," Claire Fitzpatrick, BP's Managing Director for Exploration and Production in Australia, said in a statement

"After extensive and careful consideration, this has proven not to be the case for our project to explore in the Bight."

Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who had been outspoken against the project, greeted the news on Twitter. 

According to the Guardian, Australia's offshore oil regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), had made requests for more detail about BP's plans in the Bight in recent months.

NOPSEMA said in a statement Tuesday the environmental plans submitted by BP remained under assessment: "NOPSEMA has not received a withdrawal request."

In a statement, Wilderness Society national director Lyndon Schneiders suggested BP's failure to satisfy NOPSEMA should be a warning to other companies hoping to drill in the area. 

"This decision shows that it's too expensive to establish the significant and costly risk management and clean up capacity infrastructure needed to protect our communities from the enormous spill risks," he said. "We call on these companies to follow BP’s lead and leave the Bight, and the communities surrounding the Bight, in peace."

Modelling commissioned by the Wilderness Society, as well as BP itself, suggested oil from a spill would reach the coast.

The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), which had been a part of protests against BP's project, welcomed the news Tuesday.

"This was the biggest new proposed fossil fuel project in the country, if it went ahead it would fuel dangerous global warming and risk a safe climate," Amy Gordon, AYCC national campaigner, told Mashable in an email.

"International oil companies, Chevron and Statoil still have plans to drill for oil in the Bight, but they should look to BP who cited the fact the lack of financial value in the project as the main reason they were walking away," she added. "Drilling in the Great Australian Bight is too expensive for oil companies and is too expensive for our climate."

The AYCC also called for Prime Minister Turnbull to ban all oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Karoon Gas Australia is one of a number of companies that have also been approved to drill in the region, the Guardian reported

On Friday, it announced it had been granted a permit to explore 17,793 square kilometres of the Great Australian Bight, or what it called "Australia's most active and prospective frontier oil exploration province."

"Karoon recognizes the GAB is a pristine wilderness and an iconic Australian coastline with significant environmental and commercial fishing sensitivities. The eastern portion of the Permit includes a Commonwealth marine reserve running through it," Karoon acknowledged in its statement.

"The Great Australian Bight waters are deeper, more treacherous and more remote than the Gulf of Mexico, where BP was responsible for 800 million litres of oil spewing into the Gulf for 87 days in 2010," Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen added.

"It’s time to end the dangerous fiasco of oil and gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight."

Karoon has been approached by Mashable for comment.