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LNG Development Could Destroy Australia’s Kimberley Coast


The Kimberley region of north western Australia is one of the world’s great natural and Indigenous cultural regions - comparable to the Amazon and the Arctic/Antarctic in terms of vast naturally functioning ecosystems. 

Its savannah woodlands, free flowing rivers, intact wetlands, spectacular coast and rich marine environments provide a multitude of habitats that are home to an extraordinary diversity of species.  The amazing wildlife of the region includes the recently discovered Snubfin dolphin, Humpback whales (which give birth on the Kimberley coast), Gouldian finches, Northern quoll and the Golden bandicoot.

Incredibly, the far north-west Kimberley sub-region is the only part of Western Australia, and one of very few in Australia, that appears to have retained its complete native fauna species diversity without extinction since European settlement.

Sadly, years of neglect and mismanagement have created a range of yet to be addressed environmental problems but even bigger threats are now looming over the region, in the form of plans for large scale fossil fuel (LNG) processing which would in turn open the door for many other proposed damaging industrial projects.

In view of its global significance and the serious chronic and emerging problems confronting the Kimberley, The Wilderness Society Australia has decided to make the protection of the region’s natural values a high priority.

A world-class wilderness under threat

The urgent reality is that the Western Australian State government and fossil fuel companies BP, Chevron, Shell, BHP and Woodside are planning to develop the offshore Browse Basin gas field and process the gas on the Kimberley coast into LNG for export to countries like China.

This project represents a ‘thin edge of the wedge’ for the broader industrialization agenda being pursued by the State Government, some Ministers in the Federal Government and multinational companies. The impacts of industrialization on the Kimberley coastline would destroy a large and remote wilderness area with clear world-class environmental values and also many ecosystems that are yet to be studied.

The proposed site for this development is James Price Point, 50km north of the tourism township of Broome.  The project is yet to receive environmental approvals or Indigenous consent and there are serious concerns regarding the impacts on the established sustainable industries in the region such as tourism and pearl aquaculture. Despite company and Government rhetoric this development is not a done deal – but it will take continued and increased International pressure to ensure that the worlds last great tropical wilderness coast is not sacrificed to big oil.

The bad news is that despite reservations expressed regarding this site by some companies (i.e., Chevron, Shell and BHP), Woodside and the WA State Government are pressing ahead with an unpopular and environmentally unacceptable proposal.

A dangerous industry
As the Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues to leak oil in the US, here in Australia we are still coping with issues arising from our own drilling rig disaster – Montara - off the pristine Kimberley Coast last year. 

Both these disasters highlight problems associated with the petroleum industry's operations in sensitive marine environments. The Montara spill resulted in up to 23 million litres of oil and condensate being spilled into the Timor Sea off the Kimberley from August 21 to November 3, 2009. The company responsible, Thai-owned PTTEP said they didn’t know exactly how much petroleum polluted our Kimberley seas but their estimates of flow rates were much lower than those suggested in Senate debates.
PTTEP took 74 days to plug the flow temporarily and spent 3 weeks towing a repair rig to the site whilst declining the offer of another rig nearby. The company made several failed attempts to plug the leak and aborted other attempts over several months. Yet their practices were considered to be “world’s best practice” by the petroleum industry. Clearly accidents will happen and when they do the petroleum industry cannot stop the pollution quickly.

The Wilderness Society is renewing its call (from last August) to the Australian Federal Government to declare a moratorium on further approvals and expansion of the oil and gas industry in the Kimberley marine environment until plans to establish marine sanctuaries across the North-west marine region are finalised and implemented.

The good news
The good news is that there are viable alternatives that would remove or minimize impacts on the Kimberley coast such as:
•    Leave the gas deep under the sea where it belongs and invest in renewable energy technology and marine protected areas instead;
•    Process the gas by piping it south to existing industrial infrastructure in the Pilbara region;
•    Process the gas using offshore (‘floating’) LNG technology under development.

As always, The Wilderness Society will seek to work closely with the region’s Traditional Owners to ensure that environmental protection outcomes go hand in hand with improved outcomes for Indigenous communities.

What you can do:

Learn more:

Visit the Wilderness Society Australia website.
Download the informative ‘10 reasons why the LNG development should not go on the Kimberley coast’ information sheet 
Subscribe to our supporter list to stay informed of latest developments

Take action:

Send a message to CEO's of Woodside, BP, Shell, Chevron and BHP Billiton that you want them to learn from the recent oil spill disasters and leave the Kimberley coast unspoiled.

Josh Coates, Contributor
Josh Coates is a campaigner for the Wilderness Society Australia. Coates is a qualified marine biologist and experienced conservation advocate who has been working for many years for the protection of Australia’s Kimberley region--one of the world’s last great wilderness areas. The Wilderness Society in Australia has no formal association with the US Wilderness Society and is one of Australia's largest environmental groups.

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