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Champion surfer Mick Fanning joins fight against Bight oil drilling

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Three-time world surfing champion Mick Fanning has thrown his weight behind a fight to stop a foreign oil company from drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

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The campaign against Norwegian oil giant Equinor is gaining momentum after big-name surfers joined in calls to ban the drilling project.

Thousands of people have been turning out for demonstrations in coastal communities across the nation, and there are plans for a major protest in Melbourne on Sunday.

The issue is also making waves overseas and on Monday the World Surf League weighed in to publicly support the campaign.

“The community, they’re making a noise,” Fanning said.

“This one’s not only just about surfing community, this is about Australia’s coastline, Australia’s youth.”

Opponents argued the rare but potential risk of a widespread oil spill was not worth the risk to the environment and the thousands of existing jobs that rely on the ocean, including tourism and fishing industries.

Free surfer and activist Dave Rastovich said: “Eighty five per cent of marine life in the Bight is found nowhere else in the world. It’s one of the last great tracts of marine wilderness and it needs to be protected from being industrialised.”

Federal resources minister Matt Canavan has previously called offshore drilling a “national priority” and recently said in response to drilling critics that regulation of the oil and gas sector was “extensive” in Australia.

“We’re never going to be complacent. We’ve got to make sure we step through this in the right and proper way,” Canavan told Triple J’s Hack program.

In early March, the issue was brought up on the other side of the world by politicians in Norway.

Norwegian Greens MP Kristoffer Robin Haug asked in Norwegian Parliament whether the country’s energy minister “as the majority stakeholder” in state-owned Equinor would instruct it to abandon the plan

“If an oil spill happened … it ruins half of Australia’s coastline and that right there is truly saddening.

“Take that risk just for money and it’s not even Australian money? Yeah, it truly sucks.”

Twenty-eight of the world’s biggest surfing names including Fanning, Stephanie Gilmore, Layne Beachley and Dave Rastovich have also co-signed an open letter opposing Equinor’s plan.

The public has until March 20 to comment to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA). 

Equinor needs sign-off from NOPSEMA to move forward with its plans.

Read Equnor’s full draft environmental report here.

The World Surf League tweeted its support for protesters to its nearly two million followers on Monday, calling the Australian surfing community inspiring for its action.

In February, The New Daily reported on the reasons for and against the drilling, dispelling some of the myths around the project.

Wednesday is deadline day for the Australian public and industry officials to have a say on whether the environmental regulator should allow the company to drill an exploratory well in 2020 to search for the existence of oil or gas.

The site is 370 kilometres off the South Australian coast and drilling would begin more than 2000 metres underwater. The company said it believes resources could be found some 2700 metres under the sea floor.

Equinor was lashed by fierce opposition last month after its own disaster-mitigation strategy showed oil could spread across the south coast of the Australian mainland and around Tasmania if its plan goes awry.

The company is confident the chances of a spill are extremely low, maintaining their exploratory drilling could uncover resources and eventually create more than 1000 jobs.

In response to the release of the draft environment plan, thousands of people have turned out for “Fight for the Bight” protests in coastal towns.

This story was first published by The New Daily.

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