We have launched a new legal challenge to protect the Great Australian Bight — one of our most precious and pristine wild places — and the wildlife that relies on it to survive.
The Environmental Defenders Office has launched legal action in the Federal Court on behalf of The Wilderness Society (South Australia), challenging Norwegian multinational Equinor’s plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.
It’s because of people like you that we continue to employ our unique combination of litigation, law reform, science and legal education in the defence of Australia’s exceptional biodiversity.
You can help EDO stand up in Court for people and natural icons like the Bight by making a tax-deductible donation to our Environmental Defence Fund, using the form on this page, or donate via Paypal here. Details for other ways to donate are below.
Equinor’s controversial project involves deepwater drilling to explore new oil reserves located under protected areas of the Bight off the coast of South Australia.
There has been widespread community objection to Equinor’s project. An oil spill at the Bight would pose catastrophic risks to marine and coastal life across large parts of southern Australia.
There is also significant public concern about the development of new fossil fuel reserves at a time when urgent and deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
How we are fighting for the Bight
The protection of this vitally important marine environment has been a priority of EDO for years, and our solicitors (backed by our science team) have been advising a range of conservation organisations and community groups concerned about proposals to drill for oil in the Bight, and the very real danger posed by a potentially catastrophic oil spill.
In December NOPSEMA (the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority) announced conditional approval for Norwegian multinational Equinor to commence drilling in the Bight, despite widespread public concern about the dangers this presents to these pristine waters and the unique whales, dolphins, sea lions and many other marine creatures that live there.
Ultra-deepwater oil drilling is a high-risk operation that caused the world’s biggest oil spill accident: 2010’s Deepwater Horizon tragedy, when 800 million litres of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days, killing thousands of birds, mammals and sea turtles and contaminating the area to this day. Closer to home, the Montara Oil Spill Disaster which occurred in waters off the coast of the Northern Territory provides its own cautionary tale.
The waters of the Great Australian Bight are deeper, more treacherous and more remote than the Gulf of Mexico, and Equinor plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight Commonwealth Marine Reserve. Equinor’s own modelling revealed that an oil spill from an uncontained blowout was guaranteed to impact the South Australian coast, and could affect much of southern Australia’s coast, from Western Australia right across to Tasmania and as far as the East coast and Sydney.
The Great Australian Bight is an extraordinarily vital marine environment, with 85% of its marine species found only in these waters. It is a haven for 36 species of whales and dolphins, including the world’s most important nursery for the endangered Southern Right whale. It’s the most important nursery for the endangered Australian sea lion and also supports Australia’s biggest fishing industry.
Your gift to the Environmental Defence Fund will help protect our precious places, plants and animals.
We’ve commenced proceedings on the basis that there is a clear legal requirement under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 for consultation with concerned organisations. This consultation process is vital to ensure that all risks are identified and properly assessed.
Our client engaged diligently and constructively with NOPSEMA during the assessment process. They consistently requested that Equinor also consult with them as an affected and relevant party, yet Equinor excluded them, and other environment groups, in its formal consultation process.
Equinor also refused to formally consult key Indigenous groups and local government along the Bight coast, people who would be directly affected by any oil spill.
We are arguing on behalf of our client that NOPSEMA made a legal error by approving the exploration, in circumstances where consultation from Equinor did not meet the basic regulatory requirements.
This deepwater oil well threatens to damage one of our most important marine ecosystems, as well as local tourism and fishing industries, yet Equinor refused to formally consult key stakeholders in the process. Our client is confident that if they, and other relevant groups, had been formally consulted, this could have resulted in a very different decision-making process, leading NOPSEMA to impose stricter conditions relating to environmental protection, or perhaps even to reject the project outright.
Consultation did not take place, so an essential legal pre-requisite to the exercise of NOPSEMA’s approval power was not satisfied. That is why we are asking the Court to overturn this decision.
Recent polling shows that the majority of Australians and nearly 70% of South Australians oppose drilling in the Bight. With your support, the Environmental Defenders Office will continue to act in the public interest, on behalf of everyone from large conservation organisations to small communities on the frontline of dangerous developments threatening our already suffering wildlife.
Thanks for standing with us as we stand up for people and nature.
Please help us help the community by making a donation to our Environmental Defence Fund using the form on this page, or donate via Paypal here.
If you’d prefer to donate offline, you can post a cheque to the Environmental Defenders Office c/o Level 5, 263 Clarence Street Sydney NSW 2000 or email us for our EFT details.