Bight Back!

Photo by  @sa_rips

Photo by @sa_rips

We are all David, when it comes to this Goliath. The fight against Equinor to save the Great Australian Bight needs your voice now.


“Is it acceptable to experiment with new technologies in waters deeper, rougher and more remote than ever before, in an area that already sustains the largest fishery in the southern hemisphere, and has many thriving coastal communities?”

Anna and Tim, comfortable in their psychedelic garden in South Australia posed this question to Dave Rastovich in a recent interview for the Patagonia film Nevertown. Rasta was on the ground with locals, helping build a movement to fight back against the proposed exploration and extraction of oil in the Great Australian Bight by Norwegian (majority state-owned) company Equinor. The film Nevertown, while not a bodyboard film at all, is one worth watching regardless of the craft you ride. It is beautiful and shows Australia at its best, while highlighting a number of environmental challenges faced by coastal communities. 

The film is equal parts beautiful and horrifying. Check it out for yourself here!

As many bodyboarders already know well, the South Australian coastline is rugged, unforgiving and beautiful. On land it is hot and dry. Kangaroos and emus will run past you on the roads. In the water it is cold and full of life in abundance (harmless and not so harmless). The surf can be exceptional (but you didn’t read it here) with long stretches of coastline providing myriad opportunities for exploration and solitude. But this isolation provides equal doses of risk and reward – you could get some of the best waves of your life, but if you get into trouble in the water in South Australia you might not live to tell the tall tale at the pub later a few hundred kilometers away... 

The South Australian horizon reaches south towards the cold Antarctic polar region. A region that is also unforgiving yet beautiful. Cold winds and storms brew in the south and often hurl themselves at the rugged coastline. Huge waves characterize the oceanic vista more often than not. The brutality of these swells is famous. This is the type of harsh, challenging environment South Australians have learned to live with and grow from. It’s not always pleasant, but to them it is normal. To visitors it is equal parts fear-inducing and awe-inspiring.

Photo:  @joshuatabone

This special part of Australia is under threat

A new fear-inducing entity has crashed into the coast of South Australia recently. This one has travelled from another cold place that is equally beautiful and unforgiving. An old business (Statoil) with a new name (Equinor) is proposing to explore the waters in the Great Australian Bight for oil and this poses a very real threat to everything locals and visitors hold dear.

Here are the cold hard facts: In 2017 Equinor became the operator and 100% owner of exploration permits EPP39 and EPP40, which cover approximately 12,000 square kilometers in the Great Southern Ocean. This is water in the Great Australian Bite. If Equinor is given permission to proceed the damage to the local ecosystem will begin and the risks of future oil spills will increase. This should concern you.

It concerns those who live along that stretch of great southern coastline, that’s for sure.

This concern and fear has not led to apathy or resignation though South Australians from all walks of life (and soon a global movement, with your help) are coming together to fight back. On a local level, people are coming together to try and stop this madness from materializing. Those on the ground in South Australia are hoping that a shared appreciation for natural spaces and a shared concern for pollution risk and global warming will galvanize support for their cause in the place that Equinor calls home – Norway.

“Australians are certainly distrustful of the double standards Equinor are showing here, and I feel that Norwegians would feel the same. The wider Australian public share the same view as Norwegians on climate responsibilities.”

We’re back in the psychedelic garden with Anna, Tim and Rasta.

“In Norway, seismic testing of this type has been put on hold near the Lofoten Islands for exactly the same reasons… namely the damage to phytoplankton that prop up the entire ecosystem, not to mention the effects on whales, seals, dolphins and fish not on the seafood menu.”

That’s right, the methods used for testing for oil reserves are also on the nose in Norway and those of you reading this text who have had the pleasure to have visited the Lofoten Islands have probably breathed a collective sigh of relief that such testing has been put on hold there. The fight in Lofoten isn’t over though, and the fight for the bight is heating up right now in Australia.

Photo: @sa_rips

Photo: @sa_rips

Who the hell is Equinor anyway?!

Equinor (formerly known as Statoil) is one of the world’s largest offshore oil companies. They operate in 30 countries worldwide and they employ 20,000 people work. They are the largest operator in Norway, with the people of Norway owning about 70% of it (it is majority government owned). Everybody reading this knows who Statoil is (or was), but the name change to Equinor has given the company some cover you could say.

 Why did Statoil change its name to Equinor?

The name change took place in 2018 as their strategy shifted from being a pure ‘oil and gas’ company to becoming an ‘energy major’ (which means they will continue to develop oil and gas, but also invest in wind and solar power too). It sounds good that they are transitioning into other types of energy production, but you will soon read that it is more a creative writing and number-fudging exercise than actual fact.

Equinor is REALLY good at ‘greenwashing’ their image. If you take a look at their website you will see lots of colorful and optimistic language about how they ‘energize the lives of 170 million people’; how they’re ‘working actively to reduce climate emissions and put a price on carbon’; their benevolent aspirations to be the ‘world's most carbon-efficient oil and gas producer’; and that they are ‘investing actively in renewables’.

Beautiful words, right?

The kind of sentiment and aspiration that all of us can agree the world needs more of from business. But these words aren’t backed up by real action.

One of Equinor’s signature (and close enough to ‘singular’) efforts to embrace renewables is their 40 % ownership of a 162MW solar farm in Brazil. The solar farm is operational and providing about 160 000 households with electricity. Australia is the world’s leader when it comes to solar power so we understand that this is good news - the more solar energy we can harvest the better – it’s low-carbon, renewable and part of the future energy mix that will reduce our need for fossil-fuel derived power. Today, Equinor proudly communicates in large font on their website that there are ‘160 000 homes powered with solar electricity’ because of them.

Photo:  @joshuatabone

But can they really claim 100% of the homes receiving solar electricity from their 40% ownership of the solar farm?

If you or I owned 40% of a car could we really claim 100% credit for the ability to drive it long distances in Scandinavia for waves that may not be there? No, we would claim the amount of credit equal to our ownership. By my rough calculations, Equinor could therefore legitimately claim 64 000 of the homes as credit for this investment of theirs into solar, not 160 000.

The conclusion to all these calculations (which are hurting this author’s head) is that Equinor likes to color their words green and fudge their numbers. They don’t tell it like it is and can’t be trusted. Such creative number crunching also makes you wonder about the calculations they are using to assess the risk of oil spills associated with their plans for the Great Australian Bight…

Equinor want to make you think they are a company driven by sustainability, but they certainly are not. Their total revenues for 2017 were 61 Billion USD and almost all of this revenue came from oil, one way or another. In their most recent Annual Report (Statoil 2017).

Equinor stated that they expect 15-20% of their investments to be directed towards new energy solutions (which comprise wind, solar and carbon capture and storage) by 2030, which is a positive step towards a lower carbon future, sure. But it will represent a single digit on their balance sheet. Maybe their current website will match their reality better in a decade or so…

But let’s not get distracted by their greenwashing (because that’s what they want after all). This story is about drilling for oil in really dumb places and what can be done to stop it.

The proposed drilling area.

The proposed drilling area.

From little things, big things really can grow…

On an individual level, we can all feel small when confronted by seemingly monumental challenges like this one. What can one person, a drop of water in a vast ocean, do about a multinational with more resources than some small countries?

To get all biblical on you: this really is a ‘David and Goliath’ battle.

But these battles aren’t anything new. History shows us time and again that when forces of ignorance and malevolence push too far communities react and do so very effectively.

Not so far from the communities rising up against Equinor today (by Australian standards regarding distance at least) a similar story played out some 60 years ago. 

In 1966, Vincent Lingiari, a member of the Gurindji people led a walk-off of indigenous employees at Wave Hill Cattle Station over poor working conditions and wages. Their conditions were so bad and their wages so low (relative to non-Indigenous workers) that they were basically slaves. The station had been owned by a British pastoral company at the time, Vesteys. So, Vincent Lingiari and the protesters had enough, walked off and established the Wattie Creek Camp, demanded the return of some of their traditional lands, and after an eight-year fight, they obtained the title to their land. Lingiari had a simple ask at the time: "We want to live on our land, our way". Not unreasonable really, but no one thought he would succeed all the same.

But he did win, and his efforts have been immortalized in song (‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow’ by Paul Kelly and the Messengers) and his work has led to other wins for Indigenous people when it comes to their land rights.

David beat Goliath.

Lingiari’s simple request at the time is not so different to the request which is now being made of Equinor by locals in the Bight: “We want to enjoy our oceans, our way”. Lingiari was ultimately successful against all odds, but can it happen again now? Against a giant like Equinor?

Wave-riders around the world have spoken in chorus. 

If you hadn’t noticed the uproar on social media about Equinor in the past few days you must have been living under a rock, or distracted by a cyclone swell or something…

Pro-surfers are using their influence to raise awareness in the surf media and many bodyboarders too:

From Nick Gornall on Instagram:

“They don’t understand the fury and sheer power of our patterns down there with waves reaching up to 30/40 feet and not to mention the wide stretch of heritage sites of our nation’s first people”.

Chris White just travelled along the coastline there and had this to say when raising awareness about the issue:

“The Great Australian Bight is an amazing stretch of coast from Western Australia to South Australia. I just camped there last week and got to see first-hand how beautiful, raw and full of marine life it is. These cliffs are the longest continuous stretch of sea cliffs in the world!

Crazy to think they’re putting plans together to drill it for oil. Stoked people are standing up to make a difference”.

People from all walks of life, wave-craft, industries and political backgrounds are coming together to say to Equinor that they want to enjoy their oceans their way without risk of devastating pollution. This movement, which started small and local, is quickly spreading across communities, countries and cultures and there is something every one of us can do about it.

At the end of the day, it is evident that we are all concerned by this proposed action by Equinor and looking to do something about it.

We know what’s at stake and we know we can win.

It’s time to bight back.

What to do now?

First and foremost, we urge everyone to speak up today to say no to Equinor. We do not agree – enough is enough. For a 30-day period from February 19th to March 20th 2019, Equinor’s draft Environment Plan (EP) will be open for public comment. Place pressure on the company by submitting your comments RIGHT HERE:

But not only this, speak out on social media by using the handle @equinor and commenting on their post – shame them on what they are doing publicly. Keep up the fight until they back out of drilling in the Bight.

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Joshua B. KirkmanComment