Great Australian Bight at risk with BP’s oil project

An aerial view of the Great Australian Bight.

An aerial view of the Great Australian Bight.

Conservation groups have been waging war against oil drilling into the vast underwater of the Great Australian Bight located in the Southern Sea, and it may take political will to stop BP Developments Australia Pty Ltd from its oil exploration project in the area once and for all.

South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young announced last week she will introduce a Bill to the Senate that seeks to protect the Great Australian Bight marine park from companies wanting to drill for oil and gas.

Senator Hanson-Young said Parliament needs to intervene and stop several other companies lining up to drill the underground of the marine park. She noted a marine park is useless if it is not protected from exploitation, citing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as one example of such risk.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) has already advised BP that it will be taking additional time to assess the company’s environment plan proposing the drilling of the Stromlo-1 and Whinham-1 exploration wells in the Great Australian Bight. NOPSEMA will deliver its next assessment decision for the plan by Sept 29.

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“This precious marine ecosystem and numerous local industries, including fisheries and eco-tourism operators, deserve to be protected,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

“The Bight is an essential sanctuary for southern right whales and a feeding ground for threatened sea lions, sharks, tuna and migratory sperm whales.”

The Great Australian Bight Alliance, composed of various environmental and civic groups, has been actively campaigning to stop BP. Last month, a series of events were held led by Sea Shepherd’s flagship vessel Steve Irwin which departed from Melbourne and sailed for the Great Australian Bight. This was a part of its Operation Jeedara.

Operation Jeedara showcases the treasures of the Great Australian Bight and exposes the threats to a wilderness of global significance. Much of the landscape and diversity of life in the Great Australian Bight is unknown to the world. The Sea Shepherd showed what is at risk if BP were allowed to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight .

The Great Australian Bight Alliance set up campaign events against BP. (Photo: Sea Shepherd South Australia)

The Great Australian Bight Alliance set up campaign events against BP. (Photo: Sea Shepherd South Australia)

The expedition covered the Nuyts Reef, the Isles of St Francis, Pearson Island, areas around Kangaroo Island and the Coorong Coast, to the iconic Bunda Cliffs of the Nullarbor Plain.

“The Bight is an utterly inappropriate place to be pushing to expand the oil industry. We must rapidly transition away from fossil fuels to have any chance of a livable climate into the future” said Wilderness Society South Australia Director Peter Owen.

Related related story HERE.

Australian environmentalist, Dr Bob Brown, has joined and supported the campaign. Greenpeace Australia Pacific is also supporting the cause and has launched its own campaign.

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Investors warned of Buru Energy’s fracking in West Australia

Buru Energy's operation in Western Australia. (Photo: Supplied)

Buru Energy’s operation in Western Australia. (Photo: Supplied)

Investors for natural resource exploration company Buru Energy’s AUD $30.8m plans to frack for gas in Western Australia’s ecologically sensitive Canning Basin have been warned of the various risks posed by the project. The backers have also been told to expect more protests from local communities should the energy company continue to push for the project, which is due to be implemented upstream from a heritage site in WA’s Kimberley region.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) issued the alert recently, raising the company’s financial viability, along with its engineering integrity in other operations as prime concerns.

Buru Energy has been looking into the feasibility of fracking for gas in the South Kimberley’s Canning Basin since the company demerged from ARC Energy in 2008. The project includes fracking for unconventional tight gas, oil, and condensates. Among its partners are Mitsubishi Corporation, Coogee Chemicals, and Rey Resources.

ACF’s Kimberley Project Officer Wade Freeman said Buru’s plans for hydraulic fracking in the region have the potential to cause serious damage to underground water as well as historical and cultural values for local communities. Buru’s exploration permits cover the beach resort town of Broome’s aquifer, an area of floodplains and lakes that feeds Broome’s only drinking water source, Freeman added.

The ACF has also raised concern that Buru’s fracking plans present a genuine threat to the health of the Fitzroy River and Roebuck Bay. Instead of investing in risky fossil fuel industries for the short term, the conservation group said there are other sustainable options based on The Kimberley’s unique cultural and environmental values.

Protestors hang the banner to stop Buru Energy from fracking. (Photo: Supplied)

Protestors hang the banner to stop Buru Energy from fracking. (Photo: Supplied)

Opposition towards the project is expected to rise from the local community level on to regional, national, and international spheres. In the state alone, this will likely be a major environmental issue in the lead up to the 2017 West Australian elections. Recent polling suggests the 2017 WA election is set to be a close race. The Western Australian Labor Party has advanced two policies that will potentially end hydraulic fracturing in the state.

National awareness programs are being organised to highlight potential impact of shale gas development on national heritage-listed assets in the region. The states of Victoria and Tasmania have already placed moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing. The Australian Labor Party has recently committed to add shale gas fracking to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) Act’s Water Trigger.

Signs not to frack Aboriginal land. (Photo:Supplied)

Signs not to frack Aboriginal land. (Photo:Supplied)

The ACF said the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December last year has shifted global approach towards the issue of energy. In the US, several states have already banned fracking, including Maryland, New York, California, Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Washington, Hawaii, and Ohio. Many countries have followed suit, including Germany, Scotland, Wales, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Romania, Netherlands, Spain and Bulgaria. This development is expected to set the momentum of a new era.

Western Australian farmers and community groups have formed an alliance with farmers from Wyoming in the US, warning other communities by publishing their experiences with the detrimental impacts of shale gas fracking.

ACF’s Economist Matthew Rose sent the alert to investment firms, fund managers and individual shareholders. Considering the post-Paris agreement on climate policy, this project raises concern about the increased risks in the region, affecting traditional owners and national heritage-listed values in The Kimberley.

“There are serious risks associated with this project – for the environment and for investors,” Rose said.

Buru Energy’s Quarterly Report published on June 30 shows the company’s estimated cash inflows for the next quarter at $9.5 million for the sale of a pastoral lease asset, and $5.8 million from government tax concessions.

“What is the future of an oil and gas company that relies on selling beef and drawing big tax concessions from the public purse in order to remain viable?” Mr Rose asked.

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Federal Court overturns Adani’s Carmichael mine

Adani's activity in the Carmichael mine. (Photo:Supplied)

Adani’s activity in the Carmichael mine. (Photo:Supplied)

Here’s another victory for environmental defenders!

Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland, which could have been one of the largest coal mines in the world and responsible for substantial greenhouse gas emissions, is now without legal authority to commence construction or operate. The Federal Court of Australia overturned approval of the project. Read the court order HERE.

Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) NSW, representing the Mackay Conservation Group (MCG), challenged the $16.5 billion project which the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved last year .The approval stirred unrests among local communities, indigenous people, tourism businesses, and various green and civic groups. 

Sue Higginson, principal solicitor of EDO NSW said the the decision of the court to overturn the Carmichael mine’s federal approval was based on a failure by the Minister to regard conservation advices for two Federally-listed vulnerable species, the Yakka Skink and Ornamental Snake. This kind of error in the decision making process is legally fatal to the Minister’s decision, the solicitor said.

The Minister approved the project without regard to the threats of endangered species which are found only in Queensland, the solicitor continued adding the law requires that the Minister should have considered conservation advices on the impacts of national environmental significance, such as the case of threatened species.

The  Minister also failed to consider global greenhouse emissions from the burning of the coal and Adani’s environmental history although these matters are left unresolved before the Court. Australia’s largest coal mine could be exporting up to 60 million tonnes of coal from across the Great Barrier Reef Coast every year.

Facility built at the Abbot Point Point to provide access to coal exports. (Photo:Supplied)

Facility built at the Abbot Point Point to provide access to coal exports. (Photo:Supplied)

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) estimates the mine will take 297 billion litres from underground aquifers, causing a drop in water table levels on which local farmers rely. When burnt, coal from the Carmichael mine will produce 128.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year, at peak production, or four times New Zealand’s annual climate pollution.

“It will be up to the Minister now to decide whether or not to approve the mine again, taking into account the conservation advices and any other information on the impacts of the project,” Higginson said. MCG is running a campaign calling the Minister to reject the project once and for all.

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Victoria bans fracking until 2015

Fracking is ongoing in many parts of Australia – business as usual. But there is a sigh of relief in Victoria, at least, for now. Re-blogging my post at AC over the weekend:

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Bad news for gas exploration ventures in Victoria: Fracking moratorium stays until 2015. But for Greenies, it is party time!

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine announced towards the weekend his government is extending the moratorium on the process of unconventional gas fracking until at least July 2015.

Friends of the Earth Melbourne (FoE) has been seeking a gas-free Victoria and this announcement is a welcome development. The group said the state government has been listening to community concerns.

Lock the Gate rallies for a gas-free Australia (Photo:FoE)

The Premier, through his online news service, said that his government would not support on-shore gas production until scientific facts are known and clear evidence shown that such an industry would not risk the state’s assets. He said Victoria is taking a careful and measured approach to a potential onshore gas industry that will be informed by independent scientific facts and public consultation.

FoE Campaigner Cam Walker said the ban extension is a good start although he admitted the issue will not go away.  “Pushing the moratorium out to 2015 will take some of the heat out of the community concern over new fossil fuel projects… But it will not make the government’s problems go away. While gas exploration is allowed to continue, and the prospect of new coal allocations exists, the extension simply gives the community more time to get organised against these threats,” Walker said.

FoE maintains that the Napthine government’s capitulation to people power on unconventional gas will not diminish the community’s angst over new coal mining operations.

The next test for the government will be to see whether it drops plans for a further coal allocation.

Walker added that Napthine needs to understand that new coal is every bit as unpopular as new gas operations in regional Victoria.

Lock the Gate co-ordinator Ursula Alquier also said the state government’s extension to the moratorium on fracking will not stop the growing movement against unconventional gas. She suggested that the logical next step is for the government to ban any further exploration for unconventional gas and initiate a state inquiry into whether this industry will be safe for land, people and water.

“A public inquiry under an independent Chair would then provide information that would complement the findings of the 12-month community consultation program that will be carried out by Energy and Resources Minister Nicholas Kotsiras… without this data, we will be flying blind on whether this industry can be safe and compatible with continued agricultural activity in a densely populated state like Victoria,” Alquier said.

Friends of the Earth joined the National Day of Climate Action on Nov 17. (Photo: R. Yoon/Asian Correspondent)

The gas and petroleum sector, meanwhile, is disappointed with the Premier’s announcement.

According to a report from Mining Weekly,  the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (Appea) warned the moratorium would further delay diversifying the development of natural gas resources in Victoria and would result in higher-than-necessary energy prices.

Appea COO for Eastern Australia Paul Fennelly reportedly said, “The message to companies seeking to do business in Victoria – seeking to source natural gas, create jobs, revitalise rural communities, add to government revenue streams and provide additional income to farmers – is unfortunately crystal clear.”

Fenelly added the “Victorian government is paying more attention to short-term politics than science-based evidence and is clearly not displaying enough focus on attracting investment and building the economy, nor the consequences of failing to do so.”

Gas and oil explorer Lakes Oil’s chairman Rob Annells also criticised the moratorium on fracture stimulation, or fracking, claiming it is harming both Victoria’s economy and petroleum extraction industry employment, the Gippsland Times reported.

Annells said projects gas prices would rise significantly, probably doubling in the next three to four years, because Australia’s east coast gas market was about to be opened up to world prices when gas exports out of Gladstone, Queensland, began.

He is pessimistic that the consequent price rise will put pressure on local energy reliant industries, threatening employment.

James Price Point gas dream is dead

The Western Australian Supreme Court declared today the James Price Point  (JPP) gas plant is illegal after it found that the WA Environment Minister and the WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) have acted illegally in the assessment and approval of the massive project.

The court’s announcement puts the final nail in the coffin ending the elusive Dubai dream. In April, Woodside Petroleum’s announced it is dumping its $45 billion LNG investment in JPP after it found the project to be economically unviable.

Wilderness Society WA Campaign Manager Peter Robertson said JPP is now dead and buried and that WA Premier Colin Barnett must face the facts, drop this unhealthy obsession, and quit the compulsory acquisition process.

Victory for Goolarabooloo Traditional Owner Richard Hunter (Photo: Damian Kelly)

Victory for Goolarabooloo Traditional Owner Richard Hunter (Photo: Damian Kelly)

The Wilderness took the action with Goolarabooloo Traditional Owner Richard Hunter. The people of Broome and the Traditional Custodians supported the action and rallied in opposition to the WA Government and some of the world’s biggest resource companies.

Hunter said the EPA lied to the community, but truth and justice prevail. “Today’s court ruling shows that we will do what it takes to protect the Song Cycle, this country, for future generations. Our people are strong – we are still fighting for our culture and country, we won’t be bullied into a corner by the government,” he said.

Robertson said JPP or Walmadan should remain with its Traditional Custodians to be managed for its extraordinary landscape, wildlife, and culture.

The failure of the gas project shows two things: It highlights the environmental and cultural significance of Walmadan while it underscores the importance of independent environmental assessment.

Traditional Owners Neil McKenzie, Albert Wiggan and Joseph Roe stand up against Woodside’s proposed gas hub at James Price Point. (Photo:Julia Rau)

The case also demonstrates that the States cannot be trusted to protect their own natural heritage and that the Federal Government needs to maintain an environmental oversight, the Wilderness said adding that this ruling sets a bold precedent and is a stark reminder of why final environmental approval powers should not be left in the hands of the States.

Further, the Society is wary that business and investor confidence will be severely eroded around the country as environmental approvals are overturned by the courts or spend years tangled up in legal action as evidenced by the JPP ruling.

National Director Lyndon Schneiders notes that Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott  made his party’s position clear on approval powers being handed to the conflicted and under-resourced States.  He said the States cannot be trusted to look after environmental matters of national significance.

Wilderness Society’s Perth crew at Woodside’s AGM in April to celebrate the dumping of Kimberley gas hub. (Photo: Wilderness Society)

Wilderness Society’s Perth crew at Woodside’s AGM in April to celebrate the dumping of Kimberley gas hub. (Photo: Wilderness Society)

Without Federal powers to override the irresponsible decisions of the States, the Great Barrier Reef, the Franklin River, the Daintree Rainforest and Fraser Island would all have been destroyed.

Recently, the Environment Defenders Office (EDO) also released the ‘One Stop Chop’ , a report containing an assessment how State governments failed to enforce effective environmental protection laws without an overriding Federal laws.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Queensland granny walks 1200 km to Save the Reef

A 72 year-old grandmother ended her 1,200 km-walk from Cairns to Gladstone in Queensland on Thursday last week to remind Australian voters to think about the Great Barrier Reef.

June Norman completes her 1,200 km walk to Save the Reef.

June Norman is the hero of the day for having just completed her 80-day journey. She took the Reef Walk 2013 from her hometown Cairns to raise awareness of the impacts of coal seam gas (CSG) exploration projects and the LNG export industries to the Great Barrier Reef.

She arrived in Gladstone with a parade of colourful banners. She hopes that people will think about the election and choose candidates who care about the reef. She said voters should not pick the same old political party, but find out if their policies include the reef. The federal election has been set on Sept. 7.

This is what she has to say about her 80-day journey:

“I started this journey more than a year ago, with planning and contacting other concerned people, tourist operators and fishermen all along the coast. The last few months have been some of the best days of my life. Every day I met wonderful people with passion to protect the Reef.”

“One thing life has taught me is there is nothing more important than family, and this journey has been one small thing I can do for my grandchildren. It’s what every mother wants, a good future for their children, and I want my grand kids to enjoy the world and the Great Barrier Reef like I have.”

“I just don’t understand, why are we allowing international companies to come here and destroy this beautiful world heritage reef. The dredging in Gladstone should be a warning to us all, we will see dead dugong and turtles all along the Queensland coast if we don’t stop the new coal and gas ports.”

“All I ask is that Mr Campbell Newman and Mr Kevin Rudd stop for just one day and take a trip to the reef. Stop and feel its beauty. Perhaps then they might consider stopping this madness”

Climate change and rapid industrialisation are putting the Great Barrier Reef under enormous pressure. With the growing commitment to coal export markets and CSG industry, new major coal ports are underway. From Gladstone and the Fitzroy Delta to Abbot Point near Mackay require millions of tonnes of sea bed dredging that is impacting turtles, dugong, and dolphins.

The Friends of the Earth, in a joint statement with Norman said the cumulative impacts of LNG and coal projects to the reef have not been considered or quantified. The pace of industrialisation is so rapid that marine turtles could disappear before their life cycle is understood. Investigations are rapidly under way to protect Gladstone’s Fitzroy Delta Subfin Dolphin before port development begins.

Reef Walk is a message that conveys the hopes of many Australians wanting big steps to be taken to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The reef is home to countless marine species and the work place of thousands of Queenslanders supporting the tourism sector.

Meanwhile, Greens leader Christine Milne will be announcing the party’s plan to save the Great Barrier Reef in Airlie Beach on Friday. She will be flying over Abbot Point to see the area to be impacted by the big mining companies if the Queensland Government continues to allow them to operate. (On Friday, the Greens announced it has launched a $176 million rescue package to protect the Great Barrier Reef from mining.)

The Greens said neither of the old parties have ever refused a coal or gas mining proposal yet but the Greens will continue to do everything in its power to stop the approval of the Abbot Point coal port expansion and save the Great Barrier Reef from becoming a dredging dump ground and shipping super highway for the big mining companies.

June Norman with her Reef Walk 2013 crew.

“Only the Greens can be trusted to stand up to the big mining companies to protect the Great Barrier Reef, with our  policy of no new Reef dredging or dumping,” Senator Larissa Waters said in a party statement.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent