The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) has issued a notice to Norwegian multinational energy company, Equinor, requiring them to modify and resubmit their environment plan for proposed 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.
The company states that the proposed drilling location was selected following a comprehensive analysis of geological and geophysical data from the area, from seismic surveys and 13 other exploration wells already drilled in the Great Australian Bight.
The water depth at the proposed drilling location is at 2,239 metres and Equinor 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 environment plan 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.
Equinor lodged its environment plan with NOPSEMA in April 2019, and submitted additional information regarding its proposed offshore activities.
Through the iterative assessment process under the Commonwealth Environment Regulations, in June 2019 NOPSEMA requested further information from Equinor to input into its environment plan. Equnior subsequently requested an extension on its timeframe in August.
The regulator resumed its processes in mid-September, but later that month announced that it needed additional time to make a final decision due to the complexity of the assessment.
On November 8 2019, NOPSEMA issued a notice to Equinor, requiring them to modify and resubmit their environment plan for the proposed drilling.
Equinor must now provide the regulator with further information about matters relating to consultation, source control, oil spill risk, and matters protected under Part 3 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
NOPSEMA notes that the opportunity to modify and resubmit does not represent a refusal or rejection of the environment plan, and that this is a normal part of its EP assessment process.
NOPSEMA is required by law to provide titleholders a reasonable opportunity to modify and resubmit their plan if it doesn’t meet the regulatory requirements for acceptance.
Equinor has 21 days to respond to NOPSEMA’s request to modify and resubmit its environment plan. However, Equinor may request an extension to this timeline.