BP out to win hearts and minds in the Bight

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BP will deploy British diplomacy in all its splendour of tact and finesse as it bids to win over the court of public opinion squaring up to a looming battle with environmental activist group, the Sea Shepherd, over plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight (GAB).
That’s was the message delivered in a keynote speech at the ASEG-PESA-AIG Conference by Peter Metcalfe, BP Australia Director External Affairs, on the strategy envisaged by the supermajor to secure the social licence to operate as it awaits a final, green light from NOPSEMA to begin drilling four wells in the summer window as part of a $1 billion exploration program.
Sea Shepherd Australia has already flagged its anti-drilling campaign intentions in the ‘Fight for the Bight campaign’ dubbed Operation Jeedara, a great white whale in Aboriginal folklore. While BP has already disputed the Wilderness Society’s modelling of an oil spill in the Bight and “potentially catastrophic” verdict that pollution could spread as far as Western Australia or Victoria. The oil company described this modelling as alarmist and reiterated its confidence in containing any spill in a more efficient manner than the Macondo-1 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Speaking at the Adelaide Convention Centre, Metcalfe said his role was to set out management and policy and regulatory challenges for the GAB ahead of “exploration hopefully later this year.”
He said when BP acquired the permits in 2011 they had begun a journey of understanding the community as “you need their help because you have to map social and economic and environmental aspects of the area so that you can plan your activity responsibly and achieve your objectives.
“There was a significant education process required to enter a new area,” he said.
BP appears to have embraced a policy of transparency in its quest to win hearts and minds critical to securing the social licence to operate.
“It probably seems obvious to us here, given the demand for oil and gas around the world, that a well regulated industry that happens to create jobs and pay taxes along the way is a good thing to have. But that is not universally held to be the case and since we live in a democracy we had better pay close attention to the views of others who do not support these activities,” he said.
“BP has been consulting for 20 months in preparation for our environmental plan, which is a key part of our approvals to drill in the Bight, and we have spoken to many people on many subjects. Some people have expressed the view that a transition – in particular from coal to gas and in particular to renewables – is too slow and partial and should be accelerated by any means, one of which is an immediate cessation of fossil fuel exploration. That is a view which is held by a minority, but a reasonably sized minority that we have spoken to.
“Others have had problems with exploration per se. They support the industry but are deeply concerned about what might happen if there was an oil spill. For all the measures that we have put in place to ensure there won’t be, those concerns can’t be dismissed and contingency plans need to be thorough.
“Other people have concerns about the noise from our thrusters, our engines for example and what impact they might have on migratory species or commercial fish stocks. We don’t think they will have a material effect but the concerns are rea and they need to be addressed.”
BP’s campaign to allay fears and stimulate confidence in its exploration endeavours is clearly more synonymous with the finesse of David Cameron style diplomacy than a blunt Boris Johnson.
“So as useful as the products are and that you are engaged in the search for, we don’t have an absolute right to exist as an industry and the trust of the community is an essential component of our licence to operate. If it is lost it is very hard to regain. You only have to look at onshore operators and (potential) coal seam gas operators in NSW or Victoria to realise that these are very real issues.”

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