British oil giant BP has abandoned a $1.4 billion oil exploration program in the environmentally controversial Great Australian Bight, dashing hopes for a big oil discovery to give the ailing South Australian economy a boost.

South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis said every Australian had a right to feel disappointed as BP had broken a promise, saying the company — a big oil refiner and petrol distributor in Australia — had damaged its brand in the process.

But the Greens and environmental groups welcomed BP’s exit. Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said “good riddance to BP’’. The former leader of the party, Bob Brown, said it was public opinion that sent BP packing.

Greenpeace said BP should never have considered drilling for oil in such a “pristine wilderness in the first place’’ while the Wilderness Society called for an end to all oil exploration in the Bight.

Independent South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, who co-sponsored an uncompleted Senate inquiry into oil exploration in the Bight, also welcomed BP’s exit.

“The catastrophic consequences of a spill, even if there was a low risk of it happening, would have far outweighed any economic benefit flowing from the drilling. And in any event, it didn’t make much economic sense in the first place,” he said.

Federal Resources Minister Matthew Canavan said while disappointing, BP’s exit was a commercial decision for the company.

But he did call on BP to propose other areas of exploration that will “make good’’ the surrendering of its Bight commitments under Australia’s work program bidding system for exploration licences.

South Australia’s director of industry group the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, Matthew Doman, said BP’s decision was a “stark reminder that global investment in Australian resource projects cannot be taken for granted”.

“But the resource potential of the GAB remains significant and the economic and energy benefits of developing those resources will be substantial. Success in the Bight would ease Australia’s reliance on imported oil and deliver South Australia much-needed new investment and jobs,” Mr Doman said.

The attacks on BP were more vitriolic than might have been the case had it not been for its Deepwater Horizon disaster six years ago in the Gulf of Mexico, where 11 people died and widespread environmental damage was caused. The disaster has been made into a recently released Hollywood film.

BP yesterday denied it had kowtowed to environmental groups, or that it pulled the plug as a result of tardiness in receiving federal authority clearance for the program. It blamed the low oil price environment and better ­exploration options in its global portfolio for the decision. “This decision has been incredibly difficult and we acknowledge it will be felt across the South Australia ­region,’’ BP said.

The remote coastal town of ­Ceduna, 780km west of Adelaide, will now miss out on the economic boost that would have come from 36 jobs that were to be created by BP basing its helicopter service to serve the drilling rig there.

“We’re all very disappointed,’’ Ceduna Mayor Allan Suter told The Australian.

Extracted from The Australian.