Environmental Defenders Office joins our client The Wilderness Society (South Australia) in strongly welcoming news that Norwegian multinational Equinor has abandoned its plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

Our case in the Federal Court, launched in January 2020 on behalf of TWS, sought to overturn the environmental approval granted just before Christmas by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) for Equinor’s Stromlo-1 project. The controversial project involved deepwater drilling to explore new oil reserves located under protected areas of the Bight off the coast of South Australia.

We are currently advising our client as to what this announcement means for their litigation. The case is due to appear before the Federal Court next week. [5 March: the hearing has been adjourned.] The outcome of a successful case, to have the approval invalidated, may no longer be relevant given today’s announcement by Equinor that they’re abandoning the plans to which the approval related.

David Morris, EDO CEO, said: “We strongly welcome the news that Equinor has abandoned plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight. While the commercial motivation for that decision is not clear, the litigation that EDO is running in the Federal Court would have been a factor taken into account by Directors when making decisions about the long term future of this project.

“If our client’s case were successful, Equinor would likely have had to go back to the drawing board on its community engagement for this already highly controversial project.

“Any oil spill as a result of drilling in the Bight would pose catastrophic risks to marine and coastal life across southern Australia. This pristine marine environment is a haven for whales and dolphins, including the world’s most important nursery for the endangered southern right whale.

“In 2020, there is also significant public concern about the development of new fossil fuel reserves and that impact on climate change, especially after recent devastating bushfires, drought and weather events. We urgently need to be reducing emissions, not increasing them, if the world is to meet internationally agreed targets for a safe climate.

“We join our client The Wilderness Society SA in welcoming this very good news for the environment.”