The Great Australian Bight’s uncontaminated waters are safe from oil drilling, for now

Norwegian oil giant Equinor had pulled out of drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight, one of the country’s most uncontaminated areas. A victory for activists and surfers who are now campaigning for the area to be protected forever.

The Great Australian Bight, one of the most uncontaminated places on Earth, will remain untouched by oil platforms as local communities, activists, surfers and the huge variety of species who inhabit the area breathe a sigh of relief. This immense marine area along Australia’s southern coast, spanning over thousands of kilometres, won’t be invaded by oil drilling activities planned by Norwegian energy company Equinor.

A win against oil in the Great Australian Bight

Exactly a year ago, Equinor published the project’s first draft as well as an environmental plan open to comments by the general public, which was then presented to the Australian government. The project showed that a potential oil spill could have devastating effects on most of the bight’s waters, with disastrous consequences for biodiversity. From that moment onwards, surfers, activists and ocean lovers came together to resist the project in a global mass movement known as Fight for the Bight. Despite the protests, the Australian government decided to go ahead and approve the draft. The decision was like a death sentence for the bight and all of its untouched, beautiful nature in the name of a lucrative thirst for petroleum.

Read More: Surfers and activists are fighting to keep southern Australia free from oil

Fight for the Bight movement, Australia
The Fight for the Bight movement has been campaigning for months to rescue the Great Australian Bight from the threat of oil drilling © Che Chorley

But then, Equinor took a step back. Suddenly, the company announced it would abandon drilling plans in the bight entirely. Jone Stangeland, the company’s country manager, declared that “following a holistic review of our exploration portfolio we’ve concluded that the project’s potential isn’t commercially competitive compared with other exploration opportunities in the company”. The decision, therefore, appears to be motivated by fears of potential economic risks rather than concerns about an ecological catastrophe.

The thirst for oil

Equinor, whose project was estimated at 200 million dollars, isn’t the first to pull out from oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, with Chevron and BP (the company behind the Deepwater Horizon disaster) already abandoning such plans in the past. On its part, the Australian government has been openly welcoming investors to exploit the presence of oil in the area, expressing disappointment at Equinor’s decision to abandon the project. The government highlighted Australia’s need to increase its security and independence by having control over its own petroleum. “We used to be self sufficient but now we rely heavily on imported oil,” Senator Matthew Canavan tweeted, whilst Minister for Resources Keith Pitt announced that the country will be seeking new opportunities for oil drilling in its waters.

Fight for the Bight, Australia
This map shows the worst case scenario of a potential oil spill in the bight, created by simulating 100 oil spills © Fight for the Bight

Permanent protection for the bight’s future?

Despite the government’s position, the victory has been celebrated with great joy by the activists who dedicated months to raising awareness around the globe about protecting the Great Australian Bight. Yet, the fear of being confronted by similar threats in the future is still looming. This is why activists have asked local authorities and the government to designate the bay as an area under permanent environmental protection, also considering that scientists have found that a staggering 85 per cent of the species living in the bight can’t be found anywhere else on the planet. What is more, whales migrate to the bay from Antarctica to reproduce and raise their offspring. As Greenpeace activist Jamie Hanson pointed out, there are more unique species in the bight than in the Great Barrier Reef.

Fight for the Bight movement, Australia
Fight for the Bight, a movement for the safeguarding of the areas’s natural beauty © Che Chorley

Oil drilling must cease if we don’t want to risk facing an environmental catastrophe in the future. Hopefully, activists won’t need to resort to holding up their surfboards in protest but can ride them, undisturbed, into the waves of this untouched and unique place that deserves to be protected once and for all.

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