Community’s fight for the Bight pays off
26 February 2020 at 5:32 pm
“This is an incredible win for people power and nature,” Greenpeace CEO says
Norwegian oil company Equinor is abandoning plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight, following a relentless community-led environmental campaign to shut the project down.
The company announced on Tuesday that it was withdrawing from the project because it was not “commercially competitive”, despite being granted environmental permission to drill in December last year.
Equinor is the fourth group to bail on the project – with BP withdrawing in 2016, Chevron not long after in 2017 and Australia-based Karoon Gas ditching its plans in late 2019.
All four companies were met with severe backlash from both the local community and international communities, who said the impact of an oil spill would seriously harm the environment and local economy, as well as exacerbate the impacts of climate change.
Modelling by Equinor itself showed that a worst-case scenario oil spill in the Bight would see oil stretching as far west as Albany in Western Australia, to Port Macquarie in New South Wales.
Over 25 local councils, environmental charities, Indigenous traditional owners, surfers, and the seafood and tourism industries have been involved in the fight against the project.
And in January, the Wilderness Society launched legal action against the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority.
The environmental approval would have allowed the company to drill 24 hours a day for about 60 days between November and April in either 2020–21 or 2021–22.
David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace, said after years of “relentless” campaigning, it was an incredible win for people power and nature.
“Never doubt the power and determination of the Australian people,” Ritter said.
Setting a precedent
Senior Greenpeace campaigner Nathaniel Pelle told Pro Bono News with each successive campaign run against the project, the opposition had grown to a point that companies had “no hope” of gaining a social license to operate in the area.
He said the immense opposition would hopefully force companies to think carefully before attempting to drill again.
“I think that companies will be hesitant to spend money pursuing projects that are marginal and have such clear community opposition because it isn’t going to go away,” Pelle said.
“Every year we see the environment rising to the top as an issue of concern across the political spectrum.”
He said one of the reasons the campaign was so successful was the unlikely alliances formed between groups such as environmental groups and the fishing industry.
“This kind of cooperating with the fishing sector, with the tourism industry, with local governments, it was pretty unusual in its array of parties that were aligned on this issue,” he said.
“But all those people who work in the fishing industry and tourism industry are locals, and they spend their money locally and they support local economies and care about the place they live and work.”
The Bight is safe… but only for now
While campaigners are celebrating this latest development, they know the fight isn’t over.
Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt labelled Equinor’s decision to withdraw disappointing and said he still held out hope oil exploration would continue.
Santos, Murphy Oil and Bight Petroleum still have plans to drill in the Bight.
Ritter said the only way to protect coastal communities and the Great Australian Bight’s unique marine life was to permanently rule out drilling.
“The Australian government should now impose a permanent moratorium on oil drilling in this precious marine wonderland,” he said.
“Extreme oil projects like this have no place in Australia’s waters, and Greenpeace will continue to fight to protect Australia’s wild whale sanctuary.”