BP Bight Basin Australia
BP wins right to explore the Bight
Siobhain Ryan The Australian
OIL giant BP has secured its first permits in its own rights to explore for petroleum off Australia’s coast, nine months after its Macondo well spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson yesterday announced four of the seven offshore permits released in the latest round would go to the British petroleum giant for exploration in the Bight Basin off South Australia.
The permits — the first to be issued in the frontier Ceduna sub-basin in over a decade — will allow BP to carry out the most ambitious geological analysis ever undertaken in the Bight, but at the cost of more onerous conditions on its work program.
“They are subject to additional conditions, and so they should be,” Mr Ferguson said.
A White House report into the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig last April, which killed 11 workers, concluded BP lacked safeguards to ensure cost-cutting did not compromise safety and had repeatedly altered well designs and procedures.
BP had overall responsibility for the Macondo well, drilled to 1500m below sea level, which spilled an estimated 4.9 billion barrels of oil across US Gulf waters, beaches and wetlands.
The Ceduna sub-basin in the Bight, located 180km off southern Australia, covers 24,570km and ranges in depths from 140m to 4600m.
Mr Ferguson could not comment on the special conditions imposed on BP’s new permits, ahead of their gazettal later this week.
But he said BP’s seismic exploration program, due to start this time next year, and drilling activity, not expected until 2013-14, would only get the go-ahead after further rounds of environmental and regulatory scrutiny.
BP Australia spokesman Jamie Jardine said the company was happy to comply with the extra conditions, since it had already committed to taking on board all the lessons from Deepwater Horizon.
“There isn’t another company now with, sadly, the amount of expertise we have in responding to a spill,” he said.
Yesterday’s announcement also comes ahead of Mr Ferguson’s release of his department’s review of an action plan from PTTEP Australasia, the Thai exploration company that was responsible for Australia’s worst oil spill in 25 years. For over 10 weeks from August 2009, its Montara oilfield leaked oil and gas into the Timor Sea, 250km off the northwest coast of Australia, affecting 90,000sq km.
Two months ago, Mr Ferguson said he would await the outcome of the departmental review before considering whether to cancel their titles in Australia.