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Australia extends review of Equinor's Bight drilling plan

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By Reuters
Australia extends review of Equinor's Bight drilling plan
FILE PHOTO: A logo of Equinor, formerly known as Statoil, is seen at the company's headquarters in Fornebu, Norway May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Nerijus Adomaitis   -   Copyright  Nerijus Adomaitis(Reuters)

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s offshore safety watchdog has asked Equinor ASA <EQNR.OL> to modify its drilling plan before it can win approval to explore for oil and gas off South Australia, the regulator said on Monday.

Green groups want the regulator to bar Equinor from drilling in the Bight, concerned that oil spills in the extremely rough waters could threaten whale breeding grounds, fishing areas and pristine coastlines.

This year, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) extended the review process to Nov. 14, but said it asked the company last week to change and resubmit its plan to drill in the Great Australian Bight.

“The opportunity to modify and resubmit does not represent a refusal or rejection of the environment plan,” NOPSEMA said in a statement.

The agency said it wanted more information on oil spill risks and environmental protection, among other issues.

Equinor has 21 days to respond to Friday’s request or can seek more time.

The company, which considers the Bight “a highly prospective asset”, plans to start drilling exploration wells in ultra deep waters 372 km (223 miles) off the South Australian coast in late 2020.

An Equinor representative in Australia was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)