Transfer of power to State poses threat to environment

This might be a good news for Santos, Chevron, Woodside, Shell, BHP Billiton, ExxonMobil, Origin, Ta Ann—name it—and all those other giants engaged in the business of “exploiting” Australia’s natural resources. They will have more freedom to dig and rig, build dams, or haul native logs—if the power to enforce environmental laws will be transferred from the Federal Government to the State Government.

Undated photo shows BHP Billiton running this machine at Mt Newman mine in Western Australia. (AP Photo/BHP Billiton,HO)

The Council of Australian Governments earlier this year agreed to reform controversial environmental laws. It proposes changes that would give states autonomy to take control over local environmental laws.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)  administered by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts covers the assessment and approval process of national environmental and cultural concerns. It also administers specific Acts that oversee activities relating to marine resources, importing, heritage issues, hazardous waste, and fuel quality.

State and territory environment laws apply to specific business activities and are administered by both state and local governments in the form of licences and permits.

The plan to hand over control of national environmental powers to state and territory governments has outraged the Greens. Last month, an alliance of more than 35 environmental organisations sent more than 10,000 petition signatures to Environment Minister Tony Burke to oppose the proposals.

The Wilderness Society of Australia warned that without Federal powers to override the states, places of high conservation values would be exposed to exploitation. This is the case of the Great Barrier Reef, the Franklin River, the Daintree Rainforest and Fraser Island, for example. If left to the State Government, they would have been destroyed, the group said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) notes that in the past, under the national environment law, the Federal Government has been able to save  the Great Barrier Reef from State Government plans to allow oil rigs.

However, the reef is still at risk from climate change, catchment run-off, coastal developments and shipping. Recent reports show it has lost 50 per cent of its coral cover since 1985.


Protestors at Franklin Dam site in 1982. In 1978, the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission announced plan to build Franklin Dam, but failed. In 1982, the Federal Government declared the area as a World Heritage Site. (Photo: Tasmania Wilderness Society/National Archive of Australia)

Lonergan Research poll in November said the vast majority of Australians, about 85 per cent, believe the Federal Government should be able to block or make changes to major projects that could damage the environment.

Last week, the plan sounded to have been resolved. The Wilderness Society thought it could sit back and relax—at least for now. In a press release dated 7 December, the Society said the Federal Government has saved business and environmental organisations from a legislative and litigation nightmare by not handing over environmental approval powers to the states.

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders noted, “The business community has avoided a train wreck. The Federal Government seems to have recognised that our environment is essential to our national interest.”

Now is the time to put in place a robust system that guarantees the highest level protection of areas of national and international significance and for the Federal Government to continue to be the guardians of those values.

Greenpeace flashes a banner to support a UN team dispatched to assess the Great Barrier Reef in early 2012.

However, the ACF today pushed the red button: “Our federal environment laws – the last resort of protection for our precious places and species – are under attack.” Despite a concerted campaign of environmental organisations, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will put the plan on hold till next April, Chief Executive Office Don Henry said in a statement circulated by email. ACF Director of Strategic Ideas Charles Berger also noted, “the plan is not completely off the table and big business is bound to push the government to reconsider.”

You can bet big business will be pushing these changes, which would make it easier for developers and miners to irreparably damage reefs, wetlands and heritage areas by taking away the national layer of scrutiny and review.

So the fight to pressure politicians not to allow businesses to exploit the environment is expected to go on until the Government will “dump this reckless idea for good, “ the ACF said.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

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Greens, Sea Shepherd intensify anti-Woodside gas campaign

Former Senator Bob Brown will be the star celebrity on Fathers’ Day when he gathers a throng of supporters to see the Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin ship docked onto the Circular Quay in Sydney, Sept 2.

Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin sail for Ganthueme Point to launch Operation Kimberley Miinimbi. (Photo: Anabelle Sandes)

The ship has just arrived from its voyage to the remote coast of Kimberley in Western Australia to intervene on behalf of 10,000 or so humpback whales said to be threatened by Woodside’s Petroleum’s gas factory in the Browse Basin off western Kimberley.

Sea Shepherd is known as the champion-defender of marine animals. It goes against man-made predators including the well-known Japanese whalers in the southern oceans. In July, the Goolarabooloo people invited the marine group to help drive away Woodside and its partners from the Kimberley region.

The Browse Basin off western Kimberley is home to the Humpback Whale (Photo: Paul Souders/National Geographic)

In the letter to Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australian director, the “Senior Law Bosses” said the industrialisation project located 50km north off Broome will destroy 30 sq km of land and 50 sq km of seabed. It will destroy the Law of Culture and songcycle which provides health and vitality of the people.

Hansen responded positively, and with Brown, the Operation Kimberly Miinimbi was launched. Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin left the port of Melbourne in early August and sailed for Ganthueme Point to assess the area.

The Kimberley region is home to the world’s largest population of humpback whales. The Wilderness Society estimates the Kimberley whale population to stand at an estimate of 16,000 to 20,000 individuals. Every year the whales congregate along the Kimberley coast, an arc stretching from Broome and the Dampier Peninsula to Camden Sound where they mate, give birth and nurture and train their young. The whales then migrate south from their ‘home base’ in the Kimberley region, along the Western Australian coast, until they reach their Antarctic summer feeding grounds.

Former Senator Bob Brown, Melissa Park – Federal MP for Fremantle, and Jeff Hansen – Sea Shepherd Australia director flash a banner on the rocks of Ganthueme Point (Photo: seashepherd.org)

Other marine wildlife in area include dolphins, penguins, whale sharks, and turtles.

Brown admitted that whales are the only larger species to ever move on the planet along with the now extinct dinosaurs. The Kimberley coastline is home to the world’s biggest humpback whale nursery, the so-called Group IV humpback population.

The Sea Shepherd claims that since 1 July this year, more than 259 whales have already been recorded by scientific survey just a few kilometers south of James Price Point and 23 calf and cow (mother and baby) pairs have been sighted already, with over 70% found within 5 kilometers of the coast.

The Browse Basin lies entirely offshore north of Broome and covers about 140 000 sq km. The basin is bounded by the Leveque Shelf in the south, the Kimberley Block to the east, and the Ashmore Platform and Scott Plateau in the north, and grades into the offshore Canning Basin to the southwest. The area can be serviced from Broome, which has adequate port and air facilities. The Browse Basin is one of Australia’s most hydrocarbon-rich basins. The most significant hydrocarbon fields of the Browse Basin occur in the Caswell Sub-basin.

The breeding ground for humpback whales is under threat from the massive LNG gas development project. (Photo: wilderness.org.au)

Gas exploration in the area began in 1970. However, the Woodside’s LNG Development marks the largest ever with an investment of $45 billion within the next 30 years. The LNG development seeks to process $200 billion worth of gas and 360 million barrels of condensate from three fields in the Browse Basin, approximately 400km north of Broome off the Western Australian coast.

Woodside has the largest interest in the Browse permit areas held by the Browse LNG Development joint venture, with approximately 46 per cent working interest. The other joint venture participants are Shell Developments Australia Pty Ltd, BP Developments Australia Pty Ltd, and BHP Billiton (North West Shelf) Pty Ltd. Chevron Australia Pty Ltd, however, recently withdrew its interest in the Browse project for a swap deal with Shell.

The gas would be shipped to Asia. James Price Point will become a transmogrified industrial precinct fed by a new highway from Broome. Hundreds of tanker ships will take the processed gas to China, Japan and elsewhere.

Woodside Petroleum unveils its $45 billion LNG plan (Photo: woodside.com.au)

The Goolarabooloo people, traditional owners of the James Price Point (Walmadan) coastline, oppose Woodside’s project. However, the Kimberley Land Council, in a split vote, endorsed it after Woodside committed to paying the council $1.3 billion over 30 years, Brown told Crikey.

The Conservation Council of Western Australia warned that exploitation of this gas field will bring a major environmental impacts from drilling in sensitive marine environments, dredging and blasting of coral reefs and other sensitive marine environments for pipeline construction and construction of new ports.

The massive scale project with offshore emission facilities will produce formation water containing hydrocarbons and heavy metals and flared gas. Over 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year is also in place.

The area, to be transformed into a megaport, will significantly increase shipping movements that will potentially interfere with the migration and breeding of humpback whales and other marine life, and risking the introduction of marine invasive species.

If it go head, the Bowse Basin will cost irrepairable damage which include:

4 gas pipelines coming ashore at James Price Point; 4 oil pipelines coming ashore at James Price Point; 4 export pipelines (2 with monoethylene glycol—anti-freeze— going to Scott Reef, 2 with carbon dioxide (if Woodside decides it wants to ‘geo-sequester’ it); 8 huge LNG tanks, 4 LPG storage tanks, 4 oil tanks;  Construction camp for 3,500 – 6,000 workers;  1,000 permanent onsite staff; Desalination plant; 1000 – 1,500 LNG tanker movements year

Whales are natural attractions of Kimberley (Photo: Anabelle Sandes)

The Conservation Council of Western Australia noted that EPA Chairman Dr Paul Vogel even admitted “that turbidity from dredging, oil spills, industrial discharges, noise, light and vessel strikes could adversely affect whales, dolphins, turtles, dugong and fish. Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett is pushing ahead with gas factories at James Price Point, just north of Broome, on one of the world’s most unspoiled coastlines, even though whale deaths are inevitable.”

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Gas firm to finance West Australia’s new “Dubai”

Western Australia (WA) is set to defy all oppositions to chase its dream to turn Broome into a key tourist destination– including a court’s injunction order to stop gas giant, Woodside Petroleum, from drilling at a site in James Price Point. With Woodside offering big bucks to finance WA’s tourism promos, the State Government could not back down.

The North West Australian Tourism was more pleased to announce its intention to receive the $180,000 offered by Woodside to strategically position Broome as a major attraction that will enable WA to compete with other destinations Australia-wide.

The announcement sealed the fate of Broome, ignoring pleas from environmentalists, local residents, and indigenous land owners who have staged protests and demonstrations day in and day out against the proposed gas hub. Oppositions said gas is going to destroy the ecological, historical, cultural value of Broome.

The Australian Greens warned no one wants the project except Woodside and the Premiere Colin Barnett. The party also claimed Woodside’s partners were initially reluctant to the gas venture but have been “forced” to join in by the WA Premier and Federal Minister Martin Ferguson.

And who wants this hub? No one other than Woodside and the Government. Not the general public, not the local community, not the Aboriginal community, not the environment movement, not even Woodside’s business partners.

Woodside Petroleum has joint venture partners Shell, Chevron, BHP and BP in the project who are reluctant to go to the Kimberley but have been forced into it by the WA Premier and Federal Minister Martin Ferguson.

Broome residents said Woodside have purchased the souls of the locals with its money masquerading as charitable work.

Australia’s  North West Tourism welcomes the fund offer which will significantly help to promote Broome tourism amid a “tough domestic market, the WA newspaper reported adding that Chairman Chris Ellison believes the funding will help boost the image of Pilbara and Kimberley.

As the peak tourism marketing body for the Pilbara and the Kimberley, our members look to us to deliver a strong and engaging message to consumers about the positive tourism aspects of our region.

This additional funding will enable us to better tell the unique story of Broome, as the major tourism gateway to the region, and why it continues to be one of the best holiday destinations in Australia.

Police has become ubiquitous in James Price Point to suppress oppositions. The WA Government, however, said the police presence is aimed at maintaining peace.

Lyndon Schneiders, nationl director of The Wilderness Society wrote to The Australian saying. “the mini army has been assembled on the doorstep of the Kimberley wilderness for one purpose — to suppress the widespread opposition of the Broome community to the construction of the proposed $40 billion James Price Point industrial precinct.”

All this to move away and silence a dogged and growing band of locals who have stood in the way of the plans of a consortium of the world’s biggest companies, including Shell, Chevron, Woodside, BP and BHP Billiton, to build this massive gas plant in a beautiful and sensitive part of the remote Dampier Peninsula.

WA police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan admitted the police squad is costing Broome’s taxpayers $100,000 per day.

While the saga of Broome goes on, Woodside also awaits today the decision by the Perth’s Court of Appeal whether its drilling works at the contentious Browse gas project is legal or not.

A traditional owner and senior member of the indigenous Goolarabooloo people, Richard Hunter, has alleged the approval granted to Woodside in February was invalid because the Kimberley Joint Development Assessment Panel did not wait to receive an official report from the Shire of Broome.

Hunter applied for an injunction in the said court to stop major earthworks and geotechnical activities of the project. The company is also ordered to not do work in the beach or dune area.

Read related article here.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent