The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) has extended the timeframe for its decision on Norwegian-based international energy company Equinor’s Environment Plan (EP) for proposed exploration drilling in the Great Australian Bight.
In June 2017, Equinor (then Statoil) became operator and 100 per cent owner of exploration permits EPP39 and EPP40, covering approximately 12,000 square kilometres.
Equinor plans to drill the Stromlo-1 exploration well in permit EPP39 which is situated 372 kilometres off the coast of South Australia and 476 kilometres west of Port Lincoln.
According to Equinor, the proposed drilling location was selected following a comprehensive analysis of geological and geophysical data from the area, from seismic surveys and from the 13 other exploration wells already drilled in the Great Australian Bight.
The water depth is 2,239 metres and the company believes there could be a petroleum-based resource about 2,700 metres below the seabed.
In February 2019, Equinor voluntarily became the first company to publish a draft EP for an offshore exploration well in Australia and invited the public to provide comment. This followed more than 130 meetings with stakeholders across Australia. During the public comment period, the company also hosted a series of public drop-in sessions in key locations in South Australia.
On 23 April 2019, Equinor lodged its EP with NOPSEMA and submitted additional information regarding its proposed offshore activities.
Flash forward to Monday 23 September 2019, NOPSEMA has stated that it is ‘unable to make a decision’ on Equinor’s EP for proposed exploration drilling in the Great Australian Bight within the 30 day assessment period, following Equinor’s submission of additional information. The next decision point is scheduled for 14 November 2019.
NOPSEMA comments that the extension of time is due to the complexity of the assessment and was taken in accordance with subregulation 10(1) of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations 2009.
If all the necessary safety and environmental regulatory approvals are in place and Equinor is given the green-light, the company plans to start drilling in the summer of 2020/2021. The exploration drilling would take place over approximately 60 days.