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Equinor stands firm on Bight exploration

Norwegian energy giant Equinor has headed off a push by environmentalists to abandon its plan to look for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

The petroleum and wind power group held a meeting for shareholders in Stavanger on Wednesday to approve its latest annual report.

But discussions were dominated by environment-related questions, including a proposal by two shareholders calling for it to cease exploration and production activities in “frontier areas, immature areas and particularly sensitive areas”, which would include the Bight.

Speaking to the motion, Australia’s Wilderness Society said the plan to drill an exploratory well 370km off the South Australian coast was causing widespread concern amid fears about possible oil spills.

The proposal was voted down with the backing of Equinor’s majority owner, the Norwegian government.

“The shareholders’ proposal was not adopted,” the meeting minutes said.

Wilderness Society SA director Peter Owen had told the gathering more than 85 per cent of the animal and plant species found in the Bight were found nowhere else on Earth.

“An accident here, therefore, would be an extinction event,” he said, according to a Wilderness Society statement released on Thursday.

If Equinor’s Stromlo-1 well gets the necessary regulatory approvals, drilling is expected to start in the summer of 2020/21.

Equinor has previously said it would only go ahead if it could do so safely.

“We will take the time necessary to ensure our operations are safe for people, communities and the environment,” it said at the time.

Australia’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority is still to rule on the proposal.

The federal coalition government, which could lose office at Saturday’s national election, said it would be guided by the agency’s decision.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has committed any incoming Labor government to commission a study into the consequences of an oil spill in the Bight.

Meanwhile, Equinor was on Wednesday investigating an oil spill at its Statfjord field in the North Sea.

“We are always treating situations when we observe oil on the sea seriously … It’s still too early to say the extent of this leakage,” spokesman Morten Eek said.

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