Norwegian State-owned oil company, Equinor, has announced it no longer has plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

The announcement came after an exploration drilling licence had been granted by National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Agency (NOPSEMA) in December 2019 to drill 372 kilometres south of the Nullarbor coastline, despite much community opposition to the project.

Equinor is the third oil company to abandon exploration in the Bight, following BP and Chevron, citing that the project was not commercially viable.

A statement from Equinor’s country manager for Australia, Jone Stangeland, said a review of the project’s potential had resulted in the company’s withdrawal.

“Following a holistic review of its exploration portfolio, Equinor has concluded that the project’s potential is not commercially competitive compared with other exploration opportunities in the company,” the statement read.

For many Indigenous groups in South Australia the announcement has come with great relief and a feeling of victory.

Senior Elder of the Mirning people and staunch opponent to drilling in the Bight, Uncle Bunna Lawrie, said the announcement has resulted in great joy for Indigenous people.

“Fantastic news, what a day. This is healing for our country, the connection of the land and sea. It will benefit our collective future, living in harmony with the whales and the pristine environment,” Lawrie said.

The initial approval given to Equinor for exploration in the Bight was done so with very little consultation to community members, particularly any Traditional Owners along the coastline of South Australia.

In January, The Wilderness Society (TWS) launched a legal action against NOPSEMA on the basis that the exploration licence was granted to Equinor despite failing to consult with “important and relevant parties” – one of the key criteria to grant such licences.

TWS also claimed that Equinor didn’t consult with “key Indigenous groups and local government” which had previously been highlighted as necessary by NOPSEMA in a submission as part of the approvals process.

TWS South Australian director, Peter Owen, said NOPSEMA has an obligation to ensure Equinor planned for the future, and the environmental impact.

“The precedent that has been set by NOPSEMA’s approval of Equinor’s environment plan means that in the future, environment groups, Traditional Owner groups [and] local government aren’t relevant people for proposals like this to be involved in consultation,” Owen said.

There have been calls by various community groups to put a complete ban on petroleum exploration in the Great Australia Bight after the withdrawal of Equinor’s plan.

By Caris Duncan