Equinor Drops Plans to Drill in the Great Australian Bight
By Andy Rowel
The Norwegian company, Equinor, has announced it is abandoning plans to drill for oil in the highly ecologically sensitive, Great Australian Bight, which has been a battleground between conservationists and the industry for years.
Off the country's southern coast, the area is a marine park home to one of the largest breeding populations of endangered southern right whales in the world. It is seen as a marine treasure.
Despite this, Equinor, which is two-thirds owned by the Norwegian Government, had been granted environmental approval back in December to drill about 400 kilometers off the South Australian coast. This was despite the fact that BP had abandoned plans to drill there in 2016, and Chevron in 2017.
When these companies pulled out it was seen as a significant victory, so the decision by Equinor to press ahead was "met with an outcry from Traditional Owners and environmental activists," according to the Australian NITV news.
The news this week that Equinor was abandoning drilling due to it not being "commercially competitive" was met with joy by opponents of the plan.
The Great Australian Bight Alliance, a coalition of environmental organizations along with the Mirning Indigenous people, had previously accused Equinor of refusing to formally consult with "key Indigenous groups and local governments."
Once the news broke, they were ecstatic.
Mirning Elder, Bunna Lawrie told NITV news, "It was just fantastic news to hear. To hear that news, it's going to be a collective future for all to enjoy and for our Mirning Elders and our people to continue to celebrate and to practice our culture and traditions and song and dance and our connection to that country."
The Wilderness Society's Peter Owen also told NITV news the decision was "fantastic," adding that "the Australian people have opposed drilling in the bight over a number of years. It's inappropriate to be expanding the fossil fuel industry when we're in the middle of a climate emergency and we should be transitioning away from fossil fuels."
Sarah Hanson-Young, the green Senator for South Australia, tweeted:
Breaking!! Oil giant Equinor has scrapped plans to drill in South Australia’s gorgeous Great Australian Bight. This… https://t.co/SRBFQ9qHV1— Sarah Hanson-Young💚 (@Sarah Hanson-Young💚)1582586731.0
The fight is not over yet, though, as other smaller companies still have plans to drill in the Bight.
And despite the unprecedented bush fires that have ravaged parts of Australia, the Government is still determined to press ahead with drilling, if at all possible, too.
According to ABC, the Federal Resources Minister, Keith Pitt, said the company's decision to withdraw was "disappointing" but "expressed support for future exploration in the Bight."
He added: "The Bight Basin remains one of Australia's frontier basins and any proposals for new oil and gas fields in this area will be assessed fairly and independently."
Amazingly, the Federal Government remains in denial.
Reposted with permission from Oil Change International.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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