Senator moves to stop Bight permit extensions 

SOUTH Australian Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick put forward an amendment to The 2006 Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Storage Act, which was being read for the second time in the Senate yesterday, to limit exploration licenses in the Great Australian Bight to ten years with no “perpetual”  extensions. 
Senator moves to stop Bight permit extensions  Senator moves to stop Bight permit extensions  Senator moves to stop Bight permit extensions  Senator moves to stop Bight permit extensions  Senator moves to stop Bight permit extensions 

Helen Clark


Essentially this looks like a focussed rejig of former resources minister Matt Canavan's salvo at extensions to retention leases, such as those held by Woodside Petroleum at its Scarborough and Browse gas fields. However Canavan's "use it or lose it' mantra was aimed at speeding development. 

Patrick suggested drilling programs, seismic studies and other work has caused uncertainty for the tourism and fishing industries worth hundreds of millions of dollars. 

There are six permits in the Bight held by Karoon Energy, which has applied to relinquish its permit, Equinor, which cancelled its planned deepwater wildcat Stromlo-1 on February 25 and Murphy Oil and Gas partnering with Santos. 

He singled out Bight Petroleum's six extensions since 2011 for its two permits.

"For decades they (fishing and tourism) have had to operate in the shadows of exploration, including seismic testing, and the prospects of drilling in the Great Australian Bight. The uncertainty has stifled investment," Patrick said. 

The Greens' Sarah Hanson-Young also proposed an amendment to impose a moratorium on drilling in the Bight, which did not pass. 

Labor and the Liberals both supported the bill without Patrick's amendment, which Labor's Don Farrell of South Australia called "drivel". 

However, the act being debated has nothing to do with the Bight, drilling or even the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator but rather transfers responsibility for oversight of offshore carbon capture and storage from the Department of Industry and Innovation to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, which does not oversee titles' extensions. 

So far the only offshore CCS project is Victoria's CarbonNet, which will see CO2 from the gasification of LaTrobe Valley brown coal sequestered offshore in the Gippsland Basin. 

Farrell said Patrick's amendment has "the effect of treating one operator differently to others based not on their actions or misdeeds but on where they are exploring."

"To properly protect marine areas we don't have to introduce anomalies to bills that are concerned with quite separate matters," he said.  

"The offshore greenhouse gas storage cross-boundary gas titles bills strengthen environmental and safety regulation of greenhouse gas storage, which is an important technology to help Australia reduce its future carbon emissions.

"The bill is not concerned with the duration of exploration."

Had it been passed, legislation could have been created that could see NOPSEMA take over from NOPTA to administer permits in the Bight, which does not perturb the senator. 

Patrick told Energy News today his amendment "sets an agenda". 

In all 13 wells have been drilled in the area, but it is unlikely any will be drilled soon thanks to intense community opposition, and no company nominations for new acreage in the latest round announced earlier this month. 

Company Bight would likely need a farminee before it could drill. 

"They (fishing and tourism industries) are being more cautious about investment.. It comes down to a competing interest," Patrick said today. 

Equinor abandoned its plans to drill Stromlo-1 at the end of February after conducting a "holistic review" of its global portfolio and a source confirmed to Energy News then it was "a purely commercial decision" and not influenced by the huge protests the oil project attracted. 

"We've seen BP come and go, Chevron come and go, Karoon Gas come and go and Equinor come and go. These large companies all pulled out because, quite simply, drilling for oil in the Bight is not economically viable," Patrick said yesterday. 

BP and Chevron pulled out in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and agreed with the Commonwealth late last year to spend their committed exploration funds elsewhere in Australia under a good standing agreement with the government. 

BP's p spend at Santos' planned onshore Cooper Basin carbon capture and storage project will go towards this. 

Meanwhile Tasmanian Green senator Peter Whish-Wilson believes the act is somehow evidence of the government's nefarious collaboration with industry to force a post-COVID-19 "gas-fired recovery". 

"I don't believe in coincidences in politics, but we've just been through a summer in this country of the most devastating bushfires," Whish-Wilson said. 

"Exploration acreage has been released right around this country, both onshore and offshore, and we have seen state and federal governments and the regulator relaxing measures during this COVID crisis, during this pandemic, to enable the oil and gas industry to get out there and explore for more oil and gas," he said. 

The acreage release is a standard yearly occurrence and the 49 blocks, which do not include any in the Bight, were nominated by industry. 

Whish-Wilson, a strong opponent of seismic surveys, also suggested NOPSEMA had recently approved 100, which would be news to everyone.