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BP Australia again seeks approval for $600 mil Bight drilling plan

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BP Australia has resubmitted its application to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight, one of the world's major frontier basins.

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The application, which is an update of an environment plan submitted last October, is being assessed by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority. The original plan was sent back to the company in November.

The new plan was lodged on Tuesday and NOPSEMA is scheduled to make a decision on April 14.

BP holds its acreage in the Bight's Ceduna Sub-basin in a 70:30 joint venture with Norway's Statoil. The partners have committed to spend $600 million exploring their four Bight permits.



The companies had planned to spud the first of four wells in October 2016, but BP has now pushed the date back to the southern summer of 2016-2017. BP estimates each well will take between 45 and 170 days to drill, with a break between the second and third to assess the outcomes of the first two.

"Exact well locations are yet to be determined for all wells, however, they will be drilled within a defined 'drilling area'," BP said in its application.

"The regulatory assessment of environment plans is an iterative process," a BP spokeswoman said Thursday.

"BP anticipates that NOPSEMA will now take time to assess the resubmitted environment plan and provide further feedback in due course, including potentially providing a further round of iteration," she added. "BP expects and welcomes scrutiny by regulators and the community to make sure our work is safe and environmentally acceptable."

The Bight, a vast tract of ocean off Australia's southern coast, is home to an array of marine life, including humpback, blue and southern right whales, southern bluefin tuna, sea lions and great white sharks.

It is regarded as having potential for big reserves of oil and gas, and has recently attracted the attention of a number of other industry heavyweights, including Chevron and Murphy Oil.

BP's plans to drill in the remote region have come under particular scrutiny due to the company's role as operator of the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, which blew out in April 2010, spewing 3.19 million barrels of oil into the sea over 87 days. The well failure caused an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in which 11 lives were lost.

Australian environmental group Wilderness Society has criticized BP's plans, claiming that any oil spill in the Bight could be even worse than in the Gulf of Mexico because of the region's remoteness, rough seas, and strong wind and water currents.

These "may mean that any spill could move a long way along the coast of southern Australia if it can't be stopped immediately," according to the lobby group.

"BP acknowledges that some stakeholders may view BP's proposal to drill in the Great Australian Bight in the context of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident," the company said in its original environmental plan.

"BP's priority is to take such actions as to prevent such oil spills from taking place, and to ensure that lessons learnt from the Deepwater Horizon incident are incorporated into the planning and operations of the Great Australian Bight drilling program, and all of BP's drilling programs conducted globally," the company added.

BP said it would finalize a capping and containment response plan, which would include details regarding equipment locations, logistical requirements and operational procedures needed to cap a well within 35 days, which is now its internal standard.

--Christine Forster, christine.forster@platts.com
--Edited by E Shailaja Nair, shailaja.nair@platts.com