13 April 2016

Protestors will help clean up a mock oil spill outside BP’s headquarters in Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday morning to highlight the British company’s plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight. The event is being attended by supporters of the Wilderness Society and Sea Shepherd.

On the other side of the world, in the U.K., there will also be a protest at BP’s annual general meeting in London to hightlight that opposition to its Bight drilling plans is growing internationally.

BP, as operator and with a 70 percent interest, and Statoil, with a 30 percent equity interest, are the titleholders to four exploration permits in the Great Australian Bight. The proposed drilling area has water depths of approximately 1,000 to 2,500 metres. At its closest point, the proposed drilling area is approximately 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of Port Lincoln and 300 kilometers (190 miless) south-west of Ceduna.

“We want to remind people that BP was the company responsible for the world’s biggest oil spill accident, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in 2010, when 800 million litres of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days,” said Wilderness Society South Australia Director, Peter Owen.

“BP totally stuffed up in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico with tragic consequences. Now BP wants to drill in the deeper, more treacherous and more remote waters of the Great Australian Bight. You have got to be kidding.”

While the world moves on, BP just keeps drilling, said the Wilderness Society on social media. “Big oil companies like BP still offer incentives for continued fossil fuel exploration. BP’s Chief Executive Bob Dudley was paid almost $20 million last year based on these incentives.”

Sea Shepherd Australia Managing Director Jeff Hansen said: “We want to tell BP it has no right to risk the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight and that the opposition to its plans is growing in Australia and around the world.”

Drilling Concerns

Australia’s offshore oil and gas authority, NOPSEMA, has already rejected BP’s first application to drill four exploration wells in the Bight because of inadequacies in its plans but did not reveal details to the public. NOPSEMA had earlier said BP needs a comprehensive risk assessment and a comprehensive oil pollution emergency plan.

Independent modelling, released last year, showed that an oil spill in the Bight from a deep-sea well blowout would be devastating for fisheries, marine life and tourism. The model shows that an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight could result in the closure of fisheries in the Bight, Bass Strait and even the Tasman Sea. Even a low-flow oil spill could impact all of southern Australia’s coast, from Western Australia to Victoria through Bass Strait and around Tasmania.

Preparing to Drill

On March 15, 2016, BP resubmitted its Environment Plan for exploration drilling in the Great Australian Bight to NOPSEMA. BP provides some details of the project and its environmental plans here.

Also last month, BP officially opened one of its first key infrastructure projects in South Australia, in support of the BP-Statoil Great Australian Bight exploration program.

BP’s Marine Supply Base, located at Port Adelaide and the first facility of its kind in South Australia, will play an integral role in the safe and efficient day-to-day operations of BP’s planned exploration program.

The Marine Supply Base will be used to provide specialist materials to the ultra-deepwater harsh environment semisubmersible Ocean GreatWhite, store large amounts of equipment, host a drilling fluids plant and provide a dedicated wharf area for supply vessels.

“The oil and gas industry as a whole has the potential to bring significant economic and social benefits to South Australia,” said Claire Fitzpatrick, BP’s Managing Director, Exploration and Production, Australia.

Deepwater Horizon

On the evening of April 20, 2010, a blowout, explosions, and fire occurred on board the Deepwater Horizon as it was in the process of temporarily abandoning the exploratory well Macondo that it had drilled in the Gulf of Mexico, some 50 miles from the Louisiana coast and in 5,000 feet of water.

Eleven men died in the incident and at least seventeen others were seriously injured. At the time of the blowout, a 5,000 foot-long riser connected theDeepwater Horizon to the well. Hydrocarbons from the well travelled up the riser to the rig, fueling the fire. Deepwater Horizon capsized and sank on April 22.

As it descended, the marine riser collapsed and fractured. Oil and gas then poured into the Gulf via breaks in the riser near the seafloor. These events triggered a massive response—unprecedented in size and complexity—to combat the oil spill. On April 29, 2010, the incident was declared a “Spill of National Significance” under the National Contingency Plan. This was the first oil spill to receive such a designation.

Efforts to regain control of the well and stop the source of the discharge finally succeeded on July 15, 2010, nearly three months after initial blowout. By that time, approximately 3.19 million barrels of oil had entered the Gulf.

BP will pay a Clean Water Act penalty of $5.5 billion (plus interest), $8.1 billion in natural resource damages, up to an additional $700 million to address injuries to natural resources that are presently unknown and $600 million for other claims, including claims under the False Claims Act, royalties and reimbursement of natural resource damage assessment costs and other expenses due to this incident.  Taken with the related agreement which requires BP to pay approximately $5.9 billion to the states and local government entities, BP will be paying a total of over $20 billion, the largest settlement with a single entity in the history of federal law enforcement.

Extracted in full from the Maritime Executive.