Councils out of their depth about oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight

Published in the Adelaide Advertiser 12 June 2018

 By Adelaide-based Dr Graeme Bethune, CEO of EnergyQuest, an Australian-based energy consultancy specialising in independent energy market analysis and strategy. He has no commercial or financial interest in this issue but is committed to fact-based discussion of energy issues.

 It is ironic South Australia’s local government is being manipulated to oppose oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight.

 Council claims, led by Kangaroo Island, include that they express the “voice of hundreds of thousands”, drilling threatens tourism, ecosystems will become dysfunctional and regulation will be poor.

 Local government has fallen under the spell of experienced propagandists, the Wilderness Society, which funded a visit to Norway by Kangaroo Island’s mayor, Peter Clements, to protest Bight drilling and lecture Norwegians on the evils of oil exploration. The Norwegian offshore oil experience dispels such nonsense. Norway has safely produced 29 billion barrels of oil since 1971 with no decimating impacts.

 The country had 500,000 cruise ship visitors in 2015. Its seafood exports have jumped to a record 2.6 million tonnes, worth US$12 billion.

 Norway’s oil industry underpins a US$1 trillion sovereign wealth fund, which returned US$131 billion last year. As a net oil exporter, Norway’s transport fuel supply is secure – while Australia’s deteriorates.

 Australia’s oil output is at its lowest levels since the 1960s, exacerbating fuel security concerns. The International Energy Agency (IEA) mandates minimum levels of oil stocks.

 Yet Australia imports most of its refinery feedstock and transport fuel, the cost rising from $5.6 billion in 2010 to $22.8 billion last year.

 Australia only meets around half of the agency’s minimum storage requirement of 90 days of net imports, half that of Japan and Korea.

Australian transport typically only has around three weeks supply of diesel, petrol and jet fuel – inadequate by IEA expectations.

 The Great Australian Bight is Australia’s chance of finding another major oil basin to replace Bass Strait and the Carnarvon Basin.

 Equinor (67 per cent Norwegian Government-owned) is prepared to take up exploration in The Bight and potentially solve Australia’s oil problem. Yet local government supports a campaign to stop them drilling.

 Regulation of offshore oil exploration of course is not within the responsibilities of local government.

 That falls to a federal body, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA). It is a world class regulator and not afraid to send drilling proposals back to companies if they are not satisfied on safety or environmental grounds.

 If NOPSEMA says no, it means no. With all due respect to local government, the agency is the expert, not your local council.