Belfast Telegraph

Conservationists voice opposition to BP plans to drill off Australia

Protesters gathered outside the BP annual general meeting at London's ExCeL centre to voice their concerns about the oil company's environmental policies and plans.

Among them were conservationists worried about the impact plans to drill off the southern coast of Australia could have on wildlife - and they brought a full-size inflatable sperm whale with them to buoy their argument.

BP is exploring drilling in the Great Australian Bight, a 1,250 mile (2,000km) stretch of ocean that holds numerous marine reserves and wildlife from whales to sea lions and sharks.

Environmentalists are worried a spill similar to the Deepwater Horizon disaster which spewed 800 million litres of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 could endanger the area.

Speaking to the board at the meeting, Lyndon Schneiders, national director of the Australian conservation group Wilderness Society, asked what could change BP's mind.

The proposal has attracted considerable controversy in Australia, Mr Schneiders said, and a parliamentary inquiry is examining the risks involved.

He claimed people are worried about drilling in rough waters so close to the Australian continental shelf, the impact a spill could have on marine environments and the local economy, along with concerns BP was looking to open up a "frontier oil base".

Mr Schneiders said: "Given the stark realities around climate and some of the acknowledgments you yourselves have made around the need for effective action on climate change to keep ourselves under (a global temperature rise of) 2C, my question is what is it that I can do, my organisation, the people back at home, to convince the company not to proceed with this project?

"Your CEO talked about 50 projects in the books, not all of them are going to get up - what is it that we can do to convince you to take that list down to 49 and remove the GAB proposal?"

BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said the company was "not pushing projects to absolutely happen" or "force governments to come to decisions", and that safety would be the responsibility of both parties.

He said: "To run Bight or not to run Bight is not a decision for BP, it is a decision for Australia, and we would only do it if it makes economical sense in the scenarios that we have."

Chief executive Bob Dudley said Australia had invited BP to bid to explore the possibility of drilling.

He said: "We welcome the senate inquiry in Australia that's ongoing now, and (we) are going to participate in that. If the government of Australia doesn't want us to do that, so be it."

But he said he hoped some of the large investment BP has made will be returned if the project is cancelled.