Sydney, Australia – A leaked document from oil company Equinor, obtained by Greenpeace Australia Pacific, reveals previously unreleased oil spill modelling that shows an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight could reach even farther north than Sydney and surrounding beaches, coating thousands of kilometres of Australian coastline as well as the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The leak of Equinor’s draft document, the Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (OPEP), comes just days after Australian regulator NOPSEMA finally released BP’s Well Operations Management Plan (WOMP), after waging a two-year legal battle against Greenpeace Australia Pacific to keep the documents secret. The WOMP document demonstrated that a spill in the Great Australian Bight could be double the size of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and that safety equipment would be unusable more than a third of the year. [1]

“These two documents should be the final nail in the coffin of Bight drilling. Combined, they show that not only is the risk of an accident higher than usual, but that the spill could be massive – twice as big as the Deepwater Horizon spill – with a far greater reach than previously revealed. It’s utterly incomprehensible to consider this happening in one of the world’s most biologically diverse and important regions, the Great Australian Bight,” said Nathaniel Pelle, Senior Campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

“The possibility of an oil spill in the Bight reaching farther north than Sydney is horrifying enough. But the scenarios that Equinor have mapped aren’t even the worst case. There is a worse worst case scenario – detailed in BP’s earlier documents – that Equinor is ignoring. This is simply not acceptable for a company that has consistently said it would only proceed with drilling in the Bight if they could prove it could be done to the highest environmental standard.”

Equinor’s draft Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (OPEP), which is yet to be made available to the public, shows that a potential oil spill could reach as far north as Port Macquarie including Sydney beaches such as Manly and Bondi. It also reveals that Equinor shockingly will not plan to respond to a genuine worst case scenario – which was outlined in BP’s documents – instead insisting that such a scenario is unlikely simply because it hasn’t happened before. [2]

“Norwegian state-owned oil company Equinor has taken up the mantle since BP walked away, and has said that they will only proceed if it can be done safely. What these documents show us is there is no way to drill safely in the Great Australian Bight, due to the remote and ferocious conditions in the area, and the awe-inspiring scale of potential harms to the environment and impact on lifestyle,” said Pelle.

The WOMP submitted by BP in 2016 includes a declaration from the company that it would be “extremely unlikely” they would be able to access a harsh environment rig to drill a relief well in the event of a spill. [3]

Equinor’s plan also fails to account for the significant obstacles to emergency response outlined in BP’s documents.

“The unique conditions of the Great Australian Bight mean that many of the measures oil companies claim would be used to address an oil spill would be ineffective or completely unable to be used a large percentage of the time,” said Pelle. “And beyond the Bight, we simply cannot afford to burn this oil. Those who think oil has a future need to study the recent IPCC report because if they want a future for this planet, we need to stop drilling for oil. If they stick with oil, the IPCC has set out what the consequences will be for all of us.”

Greenpeace Australia Pacific filed a freedom of information request for the WOMP two years ago, but its release was refused by the national offshore oil regulator, NOPSEMA, on behalf of BP and Equinor. Then, in 2016, BP dropped its plans to drill in the Bight, one of the most ecologically diverse regions on the planet – more than even the Great Barrier Reef – but the regulator only finally released the document last month.  

Highlights from the document include:

  • BP modelling shows a Bight oil spill could release more than twice the amount of crude oil that entered the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 people.
  • Critical equipment needed to ‘cap’ a well blow out could not be deployed in seas greater than 3.5m, which at the well location occur more than a third of the time and equal to 122.8 complete days a year.
  • The pressures and temperatures any oil company might encounter when drilling in the Bight are subject to “significant uncertainty” due to the experimental and unprecedented nature of the project.

These documents reveal a vast amount of unknowns in terms of pressures and temperatures beneath the sea-bed of the Great Australian Bight, which makes the risk of an accident greater than usual when compared to drilling in shallower, previously explored waters.

“BP, Equinor’s former partners in the Bight, produced modelling for the same well that showed  that if a spill happened, hot oil would come boiling out and flow freely into the Southern Ocean for weeks, at a rate of up to 54 thousand barrels a day, before the capping device needed to temporarily plug the blown well could be in place – and that’s if the sea conditions are good,” said Pelle. “As any fisher on the southern coastline of Australia can tell you, sea conditions in the Bight are rarely good.”

END

Video and photos can be found here.

Notes:

[1] The BP Well Operations Management Plan (WOMP) says the capping stack cannot be used in seas above 3.5 metres. Greenpeace obtained data from the Australian bureau of meteorology that tells us the sea-state is above 3.5m 33.6% of the year.

[2] See media briefing on Equinor OPEP here (bottom of page 2).

[3] From page 128 of BP’s Well Operations Management Plan.

Media briefing on Equinor OPEP here

The full leaked document can be found here.

BP’s Well Operations Management Plan can be found here.

Media briefing on BP WOMP can be found here.

Contacts:

Greenpeace International Press Desk, pressdesk.int@greenpeace.org, phone: +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)

Greenpeace Australia Pacific Senior Media Campaigner, Simon Black: +61 0418 219 086 simon.black@greenpeace.org