British Petroleum, better known as BP, sought to convince the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) of Australia that a potential oil spill off the country’s coast would provide “a welcome boost to local economies.” BP made the claim in 2016 in an environmental plan written to convince NOPSEMA to approve the company’s bid to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight, a pristine region along Australia’s southern coast.

BP has a troublesome record when it comes to oil spills, having been responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest marine oil spill in history. The disaster, which leaked 3 million barrels of crude oil into the surrounding environment, created numerous “dead zones” – or marine areas devoid of oxygen and thus life – and also devastated local economies, some of which are still struggling to recover.

The documents, obtained by the London-based website Climate Home News through freedom of information laws, claim that the “increased activity” that results from oil spill cleanup operations would jump-start local economies. It further claimed that such environmental disasters were “socially acceptable” and did not present “unresolved stakeholder concerns.”

As an environmental regulator, NOPSEMA did not agree with BP’s rosy picture of the aftermath of a major oil spill, citing the impact that such a spill would have on the region’s ecosystems, which are home to many important species and are a key driver for regional tourism. It also raised concern that the sounds generated by drilling activity in the area could present a danger to whales and dolphins.

NOPSEMA also noted that BP failed to consider several likely ecological effects of its drilling plan and did not provide a realistic plan of how the company would respond to an oil spill in the area. NOPSEMA rejected the 2016 plan drafted by BP, and it was the second time NOPSEMA had rejected a previous environmental safety plan written by BP in 2015.

BP, when contacted for comment regarding its apparent lack of concern over oil spills, asserted that the correspondence does not “represent the final views of BP” and also noted that BP had abandoned its bid to drill in the area after citing “better options” for investment elsewhere.

However, Statoil – a Norway-based oil company – took over BP’s plans for oil exploration in the area. Statoil has yet to submit an environmental plan to NOPSEMA. Given the backlash BP has received over its environmental plan, Statoil’s version is unlikely to argue that oil spills improve local economies and are considered socially acceptable by the general public.

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