Norway's Equinor scraps contested plan to drill for oil in Great Australian Bight

By Sonali Paul
FILE PHOTO: Equinor's flag flutters next to the company's headqurters in Stavanger

By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Norway's Equinor ASA <EQNR.OL> has abandoned plans to explore for oil in the deep waters off Australia's south coast, saying it was not "commercially competitive", following in peers' footsteps in a move hailed as a big win by green campaigners.

Equinor's decision, announced on Tuesday, comes after Chevron Corp <CVX.N>, BP Plc <BP.L> and Karoon Energy Ltd <KAR.AX> all walked away from promising exploration acreage in the Great Australian Bight, which industry consultants Wood Mackenzie have estimated could hold 1.9 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

Oil companies eyeing the Great Australian Bight have long battled opposition from green groups concerned about potential damage to fishing towns, whale breeding grounds and an unspoiled coastline. Australian regulators had approved Equinor's drilling plan in December, despite vocal opposition.

But Equinor said on Tuesday that following a review of its global exploration portfolio it had decided there were better exploration opportunities elsewhere.

"The approval of the Stromlo-1 exploration well Environment Plan confirmed our ability to safely operate in the Bight," Equinor's Australia manager Jone Stangeland said in a statement.

"However, Equinor has decided to discontinue its plans to drill the Stromlo-1 exploration well, as the opportunity is not commercially competitive," he said.

Equinor, which first acquired a stake in the Ceduna sub-basin license in 2013 and took over as operator in 2017 when BP left, said it had informed national, state and local authorities of its decision.

Greenpeace, which has campaigned for years against drilling in the Bight, welcomed Equinor's move.

"This is an incredible win for people power and nature," Greenpeace Australia Pacific Chief Executive David Ritter said in a statement

"The world's climate cannot afford to open disastrous new oil frontiers," he said, adding that the Australian government should permanently ban drilling in the Bight.



(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Sandra Maler and Kenneth Maxwell)