The Norwegian government, as the majority owner of the Norwegian oil giant Equinor, have voted down a motion to cease all oil exploration in sensitive frontier areas such as the Great Australian Bight and the high Arctic. A delegation from Australia, including Indigenous elders from the Bight, attended Equinor’s annual general meeting (AGM) in Stavanger, Norway, yesterday seeking assurance that the company would honour its previous commitment that, ‘If we are not wanted here (in the Bight), we will not push through resistance’ as reported in the Port Lincoln Times in July 2018.
The Equinor executives faced significant of opposition to the proposed exploration and questions on the Bight from both Australians and Norwegians, including Stavanger Liberal Party mayoral candidate Jan Erik Sondeland and Young Labour representative Jan Halvar Vaag.
Wilderness Society Climate Campaigner Jess Lerch addressed the AGM: ‘There is a big problem for your company in Australia. Equinor’s plan to drill the Stromlo well in the Great Australian Bight is currently one of Australia’s most controversial development projects. Seventeen local governments have passed motions raising serious concerns and oppositions to Equinor’s exploration drilling plans in the Great Australian Bight. Community protest is widespread, it is consistent, determined and it is becoming global.’
The Great Australian Bight is known for its pristine ecological conditions with ‘over 85 per cent of the animal and plants that are found [in the Bight] are found nowhere else on earth. An accident here therefore would be an extinction event,’ Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen told the meeting.
‘Equinor has so much potential to be a leader with renewable energy solutions; that’s a potential that Equinor needs to embrace and lead. We must stop the expansion of fossil fuels if we’re going to have any chance of providing our children with a liveable climate.’
Indigenous elders: no consultation
In what appeared to be a pre-prepared response to the opposition faced by the company at the AGM Equinor chief executive Eldar Saetre said, ‘Dialogue is a key value and really important for us… That’s why we also met with a broad set of stakeholders’. Yet this is not born out by Mirning elder and whale songman Bunna Lawrie, who also travelled to the AGM as part of the Great Australian Bight Alliance delegation.
‘I am a whale songman, an elder, a protector of the ocean and a keeper and custodian of the whale people in the Great Australian Bight,’ Mr Lawrie told the meeting.
‘Consultation is very important to us but Equinor did not come to me and the elders, the Traditional Owners of that country, the people of the whale, the keepers of the whale and that’s been very disrespectful to us. None of those people came to talk to us about our country and we are hurt by it … There will be no oil company allowed to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight, we will not allow it.’
Streaky Bay fisherman and ex pro-surfer Heath Joske told the AGM that, ‘The fisherman of South Australia are extremely concerned… Surfers from all over Australia are extremely concerned. They have banded together in a way that we have never seen worldwide.’
‘The Bight is a sacred playground for Australian surfers, as has been shown in the paddle outs. A paddle out is traditionally a show of respect to elders passed, but since your draft environmental plan was released it has been used as a show of protest against your plans every single weekend. The numbers are growing and up to 10 paddle outs have taken place during a single day … from southern Western Australia to coastal Queensland. Every community that stands up encourages us locals that we are not fighting this alone.
‘Not only does a spill threaten our identity but the implications of the project proceeding do too. We cannot afford to open a frontier field and continue to mindlessly abuse oil for many decades to come. Our oceans and planet can simply not sustain that pressure and abuse.’