BP Plans to Start Drilling Program off Australia in 2015-2016

BP Plc, Europe’s second-largest oil company, expects to start its proposed deep-water drilling campaign off southern Australia in late 2015 or early 2016 and to obtain a drilling rig before the end of this year.

The first stage of the program in the Great Australian Bight was estimated in 2011 to cost about A$600 million ($599 million), Jamie Jardine, BP’s Melbourne-based spokesman, said today by phone. The London-based company said in January two years ago, when it received the permits from the Australian government, that drilling may start in 2013 or 2014.

“We believe it to be a prospective area,” Jardine said. “It is unexplored, and as always in these unexplored areas you need to drill to unlock the geology.”

BP is seeking approval to drill in an area with water depths ranging from 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) to 2,500 meters, according to documents filed yesterday with the Australian government. The plans have sparked concerns among some environmental groups, including the Conservation Council of South Australia, about potential risks to the environment.

BP and the government’s Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization said last month they are carrying out a A$20 million, four-year program to gain a better understanding of the environment of the Great Australian Bight.

The area is home to great white sharks, whales, seals and dolphins, and more than 85 percent of the species in the Bight can’t be found anywhere else in the world, the CSIRO said in April.

BP received the four permits to explore for oil, less than a year after the company’s Gulf of Mexico spill, the worst in U.S. history. The Conservation Council of South Australia is also concerned about BP’s ability to drill safely in deep waters, according to its website.

While the Gulf disaster and the 2009 Montara spill off northwest Australia have generated opposition to new drilling, former Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said in 2011 that exploration must continue in order to boost the nation’s economy and energy security.

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