SYDNEY: Energy giant Chevron Friday joined BP in ditching plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight citing weak oil prices, with environmentalists urging other major players to follow suit.
The company had planned to drill exploration wells to look for oil or natural gas after acquiring two deepwater blocks spanning more than 32,000 square kilometers (12,355 square miles) off the pristine South Australian coast in 2013.
But its plans sparked environmental concern with the huge Bight a haven for whales, seals, dolphins and penguins and home to sea eagles and albatross.
British oil giant BP abandoned its plans to drill in the area last year after reviewing its global exploration program.
Chevron Australia managing director Nigel Hearne said while the Bight had big potential, low oil prices had forced it to concentrate on other projects.
He stressed it was a commercial decision and not related to environmental concerns or regulatory issues.
“We appreciate the strong support from governments, regulators and the local community for our plans to explore for hydrocarbons offshore South Australia,” he said in a statement.
Chevron’s focus will instead shift to newly-acquired acreage off Western Australia.
Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association director Matthew Doman said the decision was disappointing, adding that success in the Bight would ease Australia’s reliance on imported oil.
“In Australia, onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration is at 30-year lows due to difficult market conditions, escalating regulatory costs and political bans on energy development,” Doman said.
But environmentalists cheered the move, with the Wilderness Society urging Norway’s Statoil and other companies seeking to drill in the area to follow BP and Chevron’s lead.
“Statoil, Santos, Murphy and Karoon will face the same massive costs and increasing community opposition that
BP and Chevron experienced,” said the society’s South Australia director Peter Owen.
Jeff Hansen, the Australian chief of activist group Sea Shepherd, also backed the move, saying the risk of oil spills in such pristine waters was too great.
“BP and Chevron should be applauded for doing the responsible and right thing here,” he said.
“We urge Norway’s Statoil to do the same or face an ever greater opposition as the movement for the protection of the Bight grows stronger by the day.”