Chevron ditches plans to drill off Australia's south coast

FILE PHOTO: A Chevron gas station sign is seen in Del Mar, California, in this April 25, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - U.S. oil major Chevron Corp has abandoned plans to explore the deep water off Australia’s south coast, long seen as a promising prospect, as weak oil prices are making the work hard to justify, the company said on Friday.

Chevron’s move follows a decision by BP Plc a year ago to walk away from the waters known as the Great Australian Bight, which industry consultants Wood Mackenzie have estimated could hold 1.9 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

“While the Great Australian Bight is one of Australia’s most prospective frontier hydrocarbon regions, in the current low oil price environment it was not able to compete for capital in Chevron’s global portfolio,” Chevron said in a statement.

The decision came a week after Chevron acquired more exploration acreage off Western Australia, where it said it plans to focus its efforts, having already invested billions of dollars in two huge liquefied natural gas projects there.

Australia’s top oil and gas industry group said Chevron’s decision reflected the tough conditions in the oil market which has led oil companies to slash spending. Exploration in the country, both onshore and offshore, has dropped to 30-year lows.

“While several other companies continue to develop exploration plans for the bight, the international environment for the oil and gas industry is challenging,” Matthew Doman, a director at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, said in a statement.

Norway’s Statoil picked up some of BP’s Great Australian Bight stakes in June, giving it full control of two permits. It has committed to drill one exploration well before Oct. 30, 2019.

Green groups have fought against drilling in the Great Australian Bight, warning that oil spills in the notoriously rough waters could threaten whale breeding grounds, pristine coastline and fishing towns.

“The news Chevron has given up on drilling in the bight means the coastal communities of Southern Australia have dodged another bullet, but the threat of Statoil still looms,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific Senior Campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said in a statement.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Stephen Coates