Twice as bad as Deepwater Horizon: BP’s 2016 well plan proves safe Bight drilling is a myth

November 5, 2018: A more than two year legal battle by Greenpeace Australia Pacific has revealed oil company documents demonstrating that a Great Australian Bight oil spill could be double the size of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and that safety equipment would be unusable more than a third of the year.

  • BP modelling shows a Bight oil spill could release more than twice the amount of crude oil that entered the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
  • Critical equipment needed to ‘cap’ a well blow out could not be deployed in seas greater than 3.5m which at the well location occur more than a third of the time and equal to 122.8 complete days a year.
  • Although a “harsh environment” rig would be used for exploration drilling, it is ‘highly unlikely’ a second harsh environment rig could be found to drill a relief well and ‘kill’ the leak in case of an accident.
  • The pressures and temperatures any oil company might encounter when drilling in the Bight are subject to “significant uncertainty” due to the experimental and unprecedented nature of the project.
  • The well operations management plan was accepted by NOPSEMA in 2016 for the well-site, formerly held by BP and currently held by Equinor, and which Equinor plans to drill in 2019.
  • These documents have been released after a two year FOI battle by Greenpeace starting in August 2016.

The Well Operations Management Plan (WOMP) submitted by BP in 2016 reveals critical safety equipment – a capping stack – would be unable to be used more than one third of the year and companies think it would be “highly unlikely” they would be able to access a rig to drill a relief well in the event of a spill.

“This document proves that an oil spill twice as big as the Deepwater Horizon spill could occur in the Bight and, not only that, that there is an exceptionally high risk of it happening,” Greenpeace Senior Campaigner, Nathaniel Pelle, said.

“There is no way to drill safely in the Great Australian Bight, due to the remote and ferocious conditions in the area.”

“BP’s  has revealed that no oil company can know what to expect in terms of pressures and temperatures beneath the sea-bed when they drill in the Great Australian Bight, which makes the risk of an accident exceptional when compared to drilling in existing oil provinces.

“Hot oil would come boiling out and flow freely into the Southern Ocean for weeks, at a rate of 54 thousand barrels a day, before the capping device needed to temporarily plug the blown well could be in place – that’s if the sea conditions are good. And any fisherman on the southern coastline of Australia can tell you that sea conditions in the Bight are rarely good.”

Pelle said the legal battle raised concerning questions about transparency around deepwater drilling.

“It’s disturbing that this plan was accepted by our regulator and even more disturbing that they sought to keep it from the public for two years,” Pelle said.

“One of the lessons from official reviews of both the Deepwater Horizon disaster and our own Montara Spill was that the proposals and decision to drill offshore should be subject to the highest levels of independent scrutiny and that plans like this should be made public before getting approved.”

For interviews contact:

Simon Black

Greenpeace Australia Pacific Senior Media Campaigner

0418 219 086 / [email protected]