Protecting the Bight from Big Oil

Protecting the Bight from Big Oil

Together we've done it! In February 2020, Equinor backed out of the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight. And in 2021, Santos has also abandoned its plans. For our climate, coastal communities & wildlife, we must keep this beautiful area safe.

Santos is the latest company—like Equinor, BP & Chevron before it—to abandon its plans to deep sea drill for oil off our southern coastline in the face of community outrage. But we won't stop until this thriving marine sanctuary is protected from the fossil fuel industry for good.

Photo: Rita Kluge

The threat to life

The Great Australian Bight supports an abundance of life. It's a vital nursery for the protected southern right whale, home to endangered sea lions and more than 36 species of dolphins and whales.

Over 85 per cent of the animals and plants found in the Bight are only found here.

In December 2019, Australian offshore oil and gas authority NOPSEMA granted Equinor environmental approval to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

Not only would an oil spill here affect wildlife and marine sanctuaries, it could devastate beach communities, fisheries and tourism. And, if tapped and burned, the oil in our Bight would single-handedly blow Australia’s carbon budget—and our liveable climate.

That's why the Wilderness Society launched a legal challenge in January 2020 against NOPSEMA's decision to grant Equinor environmental approval to drill for oil in the Bight. Thousands of people from across Australia chipped in to make this legal challenge a reality, and experts believe the extraordinary public opposition to the project and the legal challenge were contributing factors in Equinor abandoning its plans.

And another one gone! On 16 July 2021, fossil fuel giant Santos pulled out of oil and gas exploration in the Bight. It again proves that communities can stop the mindless expansion of the fossil fuel industry.

The film below celebrates the efforts of Lindy and her daughter Freya, who worked with their community to protect the Great Australian Bight from Equinor. Their passion mirrors that of thousands of people along the south coast who want this remarkable marine environment protected for good.

Keeping Big Oil out of the Bight

When we first heard of BP's plans for our Bight, we commissioned expert independent spill modelling to reveal to Australians what an oil spill on our shores might look like. It showed the potential for disaster along our coastline, all the way from WA to NSW.

Thanks to the public pressure our campaign has built, BP, Chevron, Equinor and now Santos have all pulled out of the Bight.

We've been helping to protect the Bight for a decade now, with lots of victories along the way.

Ultra-deepwater oil drilling is a high-risk operation that caused the world’s biggest oil spill accident, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in 2010, when 800 million litres of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. Just a month after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, only luck saved Equinor-Statoil from a major disaster at its Gullfaks C platform in the North Sea. The Great Australian Bight waters are deeper, more treacherous and more remote than the Gulf of Mexico or the North Sea.

The Bight is no place for deep sea drilling, together we will continue to fight to make sure the Great Australian Bight is permanently protected. We think the Bight deserves World Heritage protection, and we are commissioning independent research to assess the breadth of cultural and natural values presented in the Bight.

Here's what independent scientific modelling shows an oil spill in the Bight could look like.
"The people have shown they want the Bight protected from drilling—it is time for the Australian Government to provide permanent protection. The next steps will be making sure that this special place is formally protected." – Campaigner Pete Owen
Photo: Darren Longbottom
Photo: Darren Longbottom

A groundswell of opposition

From the beaches of Australia to the harbours of Norway, the #FightForTheBight is a global phenomenon. In May 2019, the Wilderness Society formed part of a delegation to tell the Norwegian Government and other shareholders that Australians won't stand for oil drilling in our pristine southern seas.

Tens of thousands of people protested against its drilling plans in Australia and hundreds in Oslo. It is thanks to tremendous demonstrations of opposition like this that on 25 February 2020 Equinor withdrew its plans. The following year, fossil fuel giant Santos announced it was also abandoning any designs it had on the Bight.

Everyone from billionaire Sir Richard Branson to surfing world champions Stephanie Gilmore, Layne Beachley and Mick Fanning are opposed to drilling in the Bight.

Quite simply, there’s no social licence for Big Oil to drill for oil in the Bight. The people have shown they want the Bight protected from drilling—it is time for the Australian Government to provide permanent protection. The next steps will be making sure that this special place is formally protected and we believe it warrants World Heritage protections. To that end, we are commissioning research to assess the Bight's breadth of cultural and natural values.

We are now calling for an end to the senseless annual release of oil and gas exploration acreage around Australia's waters. Nearly 13,000 of you signed our petition to put an end to this mindless government practice.

Taking on Equinor... and winning!

In February 2020, the fossil fuel giant Equinor was forced to drop its plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight. Watch the story of how the Wilderness Society worked with Bunna Lawrie of the Mirning people as part of the Fight For the Bight Alliance to secure this historic win.

From travelling to Norway to take the campaign to Equinor’s shareholders and public, to mass paddle-outs around Australia, it’s a victory for nature and wildlife that’s been years in the making.

Our vision

The world already has more oil than it can afford to burn. It’s the wrong time in history to begin dangerous deepwater drilling in this pristine marine ecosystem.

Our oceans don’t just provide food. They work to recycle nitrogen, carbon and water—the building blocks of life. Most of the air we breathe is produced in our oceans. By supporting life in the Bight, we’re helping ourselves.

We’ll challenge every single drilling application. We’ll commission more independent research. And we’ll make sure Australia’s regulatory body pulls its weight.

Our fight for the Bight won’t be over until the permits are cancelled and this thriving marine sanctuary is finally protected from the fossil fuel industry.

What we’re doing:

  • Challenging deepwater drilling permits.
  • Countering fossil fuel industry spin in the media.
  • Publishing independent modelling and research.
  • Helping to fix the regulatory process.
  • Supporting the communities standing up to Big Oil in SA and beyond.
  • Standing up for intact marine ecosystems and the jobs they provide.
  • Championing a swift transition to clean, renewable energy.
  • Commissioning independent research to assess the Bight's cultural and natural values