Equinor and the Great Australian Bight:
Questions & answers
Why are we discontining plans to explore the Great Australian Bight? What other opportunities are we pursuing? And will we exit the GAB for good? Here, we answer these and other questions.
In the vocal opposition to our project, boundaries between fact and fiction were blurred. We are committed to transparency and truthful communication. Here, we offer our responses to common questions that have been raised.
Equinor is discontinuing exploration in the Great Australian Bight:
“Why have you decided to withdraw now?”
A: We continuously assess the portfolio and capital commitment of our operations around the world and this principle applies to our plans in the Great Australian Bight.
We took over as operator in 2017, and since that time we have worked hard with respect to this opportunity, and the same time worked to get our Environmental Plan approved. During this time, we have also further matured and exited other exploration opportunities. This is the nature of exploration. The totality of these circumstances at this current time, coupled with important milestones requiring large investments made us come to this conclusion.
We continue to believe we could drill the well safely and this was corroborated with the environmental approval given by the Australian Government’s independent regulator.
At Equinor we believe any oil spill is unacceptable; we work hard to plan for safe operations and to prevent all accidents. We also aim to demonstrate leadership in transparent reporting.
Equinor openly reports on all incidents, accidents and near-misses to continuously improve our safety procedures and outcomes, and to share learnings across the industry.
We report all spills down to half a litre, which can occur at our refinery. In our 50-year history, we have never had an oil spill from an exploration well and we drill between 20 and 40 exploration wells every year.
Our comprehensive, technical and science-based Environment Plan has been prepared for two and a half years. The EP demonstrated our ability to prepare to drill this exploration well safely and to the highest environmental standards.
“How does this fit with your exploration strategy?”
A. It’s important for Equinor that our exploration activities create value and we continuously assess a multitude of options and drilling candidates in our global portfolio.
We have a strong global exploration portfolio where all projects compete for capital investment and we have to be extremely selective when we choose which drilling opportunities we pursue.
The decision to not drill in the GAB is not based on a change in our view on the subsurface potential in the Great Australian Bight, but is a result of the project not being able to commercially compete with other exploration opportunities going forward.
Q: What other opportunities are you pursuing?
A: Equinor expects to spend 1.4 bn USD on our global exploration activity in 2020. Equinor has a strong global exploration portfolio where projects compete for capital investment. We have an extensive well program for the year ahead with 30-40 wells including Norway, Brazil, US Gulf of Mexico, Canada, UK and Argentina – to name but a few.
“Does this withdrawal mean you will exit the GAB and / or Australia for good?”
A. We have no further exploration plans in the GAB and will engage with the federal and state authorities regarding the decision to discontinue the exploration drilling plan.
Equinor holds an exploration permit offshore Western Australia and will maintain other ongoing interests and activities in Australia.
“What have you achieved or contributed to with this project?”
A. Equinor appreciates the support of the Australian and South Australian governments, local councils and other stakeholders in this comprehensive process. We recognise there were differing views towards our project.
We invested in research in the Great Australian Bight with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and we undertook significant seismic data acquisition and interpretation in the permits.
We have demonstrated industry-leading transparency as the first company to publish our Environment Plan for public comment prior to submission to the regulator.
Q. Why did NOPSEMA accept your Environment Plan?
A: We cannot comment on behalf of NOPSEMA or its process. NOPSEMA's assessment processes are covered by the questions on their website here.
The development and assessment of our Environment Plan has been a comprehensive two-and-a-half-year process. It included a 30-day period where Equinor was the first company to publish its draft EP for public comment.
We have held more than 400 meetings with nearly 200 organisations to discuss the plan and response to questions and concerns.
Previous questions and answers:
“You would have spilled oil covering 3,000 km of the coast…”
About our Environment Plan
We were the first company to voluntarily publish our Environment Plan before submission to the regulator, and the first to invite public comment.
Q: "Why was your application to drill in the Australian Bight rejected?"
A: The regulator NOPSEMA did not reject our EP, but requested additional information, before accepting it. In a scientific and technical document totalling over 5000 pages, it was only natural that some information needed to be clarified.
The request for more information was a standard step in the assessment process. We took the necessary time to submit the additional information to NOPSEMA to progress the assessment process, which was paused to allow us time to provide more information. This was part of the normal regulatory process, and our EP was accepted (approved) by NOPSEMA in December 2019.
Our EP in brief
To facilitate understanding of the full EP, we prepared this 52-page booklet, available for download below.
The need for energy
World energy demand continues to increase, increasing by 2 % in 2018 alone, and fossil fuels still accounting for 80 % of the energy mix. Equinor is actively developing renewable energy in many countries around the world, but it is simply not possible to replace oil in the short term.
Q: "If you are shaping the future of energy then you need to get out of fossil fuels, full stop. They are fully replaceable with renewable sources."
A: The world population is growing significantly, and at the same time, standards of living are increasing around the world. Almost every aspect of modern lives requires energy, as well as oil for plastics, building materials and medicines.
While we are investing in both wind and solar as fast as we can, every realistic energy scenario for the future still requires new investments in oil and gas to provide energy. Renewable energy is growing significantly but it is currently quite unrealistic to see renewables replacing the use of fossil fuels.
Q: "Why can’t you produce and sell solar panels to Australians instead, or make solar farms, or wind farms for us?"
A: We are investing up to USD 200 million in offshore wind, solar energy, carbon capture and storage, and we are accelerating our actions to reduce CO2 emissions from our operations.
We are applying our extensive experience offshore and in the energy sector to create industrial strength solutions that will enable us to build renewable energy solutions at scale.
However, it is simply not possible to switch to renewable energy in the short term, and demand for oil worldwide continues to grow.
Q: "Why were you looking for oil in the Great Australian Bight?"
A: We are working on reducing the carbon footprint from our oil and gas production. Not all oil is created equal, and lighter types of oil have fewer emissions in the production phase. It therefore matters which oil is produced, and we are one of the world’s most CO2-efficient producers of oil and gas.
Our geological studies showed that the Great Australian Bight could hold light, high-quality oil that aligned with this approach.
Energy consumption per capita in South East Asia and Oceania are also among the highest in the world.