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Last update: 2015-11-01 14:53:10
Heidi Nore, Campaigner The Wilderness Society
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The Browse Basin gas field off Western Australia's (WA's) north coast is estimated to contain 35 trillion cubic feet of gas. Woodside Petroleum Ltd and its joint venture partners - Shell, Chevron, BP and BHP Billiton - want to process the gas to LNG for export to Asia. The proposed gas processing site for the Browse LNG Joint Venture is James Price Point, 50km north of Broome on the Kimberley coast, Western Australia. The project is estimated to cost $30-40 billion.
The Kimberley is recognised as one of the world's great unspoiled marine and terrestrial environments - a unique and highly valued region with outstanding biological diversity, cultural richness and scenic grandeur. The proposed gas refinery site is in the middle of the world's largest Humpback whale nursery. The gas refinery and industrial port is opposed by environment groups, Traditional Owners, tourism operators and local communities due to its massive social and environmental impacts.
In late 2008 the WA Premier Colin Barnett announced James Price Point as the location for the Browse Joint Venture project. This announcement pre-empted the ongoing bilateral (State-Federal government) environmental assessment process which was set up to study the impacts of the proposed refinery and associated port.
This political interference was followed up by Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson who in late 2009 placed conditions on the gas leases of the Browse LNG Joint Venture partners that forces them to start developing the James Price Point location well before the State and Federal environmental impact assessment process is completed.
In September 2010 Premier Barnett formally commenced compulsory acquisition proceedings covering just over 10,000 hectares of lands and sea under Aboriginal Native Title claim. This government land grab covers about three times the area the Premier originally said would be acquired. The decision to compulsorily acquire land ignores the previous requirement for the ‘informed consent' of Traditional Owners to the project and increases fear and mistrust of Government and the proposed development.
What must happen
Any banks approached to assist with financing the Browse LNG Joint Venture should refuse to support this highly risky, socially divisive and environmentally disastrous project.
NGOs should alert their networks about this upcoming project and encourage their members to write to banks which are potential financiers, voicing their opposition.
Western Australia should put its resources behind industries which value the unique natural and cultural features of the Kimberley and have greater potential to generate local jobs and prosperity, such as tourism, instead of promoting environmentally destructive and unsustainable oil and gas developments in a globally significant region.
The proposed LNG project near Broome will cause major long term social and economic impacts on Broome and throughout the Dampier Peninsula. These impacts range from increased recreational fishing pressure to the transformation of Broome into a fly-in, fly-out industry town. As has been witnessed in other mining towns, housing and other living costs are likely to increase dramatically.
Millions of tonnes of noxious gases such as benzene, hexene and tollulene will be discharged over the life of these projects. Acid rain produced from the flaring of gases during exploration drilling, production and processing is also a major source of industrial pollution and greenhouse emissions.
Emissions occur through venting of carbon dioxide (CO2) removed from the reservoir; from transport of gas from the reservoir to the plant; from LNG processing and from combustion sources used to supply energy for LNG processing.
Many other noxious atmospheric and marine pollutants will be routinely generated from operations including drilling, blasting, dredging, flaring, ballast water etc.
Some of the atmospheric pollutants - which could blow over Broome and other communities - include: nitrogen dioxides, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, toluene (methylbenzene), xylene and hydrogen sulfide, as well as carcinogens like benzapyrene and dioxin.
The Kimberley coastal and marine environment is globally significant as one of the most pristine left in the world, second only to the polar regions. The region is a refuge for thousands of native animal and plant species, many of them now endangered.
The clean, sheltered waters are home to the world's largest Humpback population and it is here that they calve and mate. The impacts and risks of industrialisation are enormous.
According to the Australian government's Humpback Whale Recovery Plan (2005 - 2010), critical habitat for the whales in Australia includes, "The southern Kimberley between Broome and the northern end of Camden Sound". This ‘critical habitat zone' includes James Price Point.
According to the Humpback whale recovery plan, the most serious threats to whales in Australian waters are:
- acoustic pollution - e.g. shipping; seismic surveys;
- physical injury and death from ship strike;
- built structures - e.g. ports, marinas and wharves;
- changing water quality and pollution - e.g. oil or chemical spills;
- dredging - e.g. sedimentation, turbidity.
Each and all of these threats to the Kimberley's Humpback whales would apply if James Price Point were developed for LNG.
Similar concerns apply to a wide range of other endangered and/or protected marine and terrestrial species and their habitats found in the James Price Point region, including; Dugong, Pygmy blue whale, Freshwater sawfish, four sea turtle species (Flatback, Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill), Snubfin dolphin, seagrass beds, coral reefs and filter feeder communities and fish aggregation areas.
Local remnant rainforest patches (or ‘Monsoon Vine Thickets') - a WA-listed Threatened Ecological Community, have barely been studied. Several hundred hectares of this very important ecosystem would be destroyed by the gas hub development.
In addition, the only two studies looking at threatened terrestrial fauna species at James Price Point have been unable to determine whether or not as many 46 threatened and protected species are present in the area. This includes ‘iconic' species such as the Bilby.
The national and international importance of the dinosaur footprints found on the Dampier Peninsula, including in the vicinity of James Price Point, is only just coming to light, owing to the work of Dr Tony Thulborn:
"The Dampier Peninsula coast has provided practically the entire fossil record of dinosaurs in the western half of the Australian continent...There are at least 15 types of dinosaur tracks representing every major group of the Dinosauria...they face the greatest risk of damage or degradation if industrial development is allowed to proceed at James Price Point."
Under Article 32 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,
"States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilisation or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources."
Despite Australian being a signatory to this international convention, in September 2010 Premier Barnett formally commenced compulsory acquisition proceedings covering just over 10,000 hectares of land and seas under Aboriginal Native Title claim. The decision to compulsorily acquire land ignores the requirement for free, prior and informed consent of Traditional Owners and increases fear and mistrust of Government and the proposed development.
The Browse LNG Strategic Assessment Agreement was signed in February 2008 by the State and Federal governments. Under the Strategic Assessment Agreement a process was to be undertaken to produce a Strategic Assessment Report ("SAR").
The Strategic Assessment Agreement had three central ‘pillars':
i Thorough environmental and social impact studies and assessment;
ii Credible examination of Browse LNG processing options outside the Kimberley;
iii Indigenous consent.
Each of these three pillars has now been subverted by the WA Premier Colin Barnett and Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson:
- Immediately upon election, Premier Barnett decreed that the gas hub would be built in the Kimberley, pre-empting the outcomes of the strategic assessment process.
- Due to the politically motivated haste in seeking approval for a Kimberley site, the required scientific studies in this remote, biodiverse and little-studied area simply cannot be conducted in the time available to a level that would allow either government to make a ‘safe' decision to approve the development.
- The examination of feasible sites outside the Kimberley has not occurred. Locations such as Karratha and Port Hedland have been dismissed on grounds that apply just as strongly or more so in the Kimberley, e.g. air pollution, coastal location issues and port development concerns. Meanwhile, the environmental, social and economic benefits of those ‘brownfields' locations have been downplayed despite several of the joint venture companies themselves clearly wanting such options to remain open.
- Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson placed legal conditions on the renewal of the gas leases held by the LNGjoint venture partners which force them to prioritise investment in the Kimberley (James Price Point) location, before this location has been assessed or approved.
- The WA Premier recently announced compulsory acquisition of the James Price Point land which is currently under Aboriginal native title claim.
ANZ and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ are signatories to the Equator Principles. If approached to finance the Browse joint venture project, banks should assess the project under Category A of the Principles and make the full assessment publicly available.
In April 2013 it was announced that Woodside Petroleum had put the project on hold. The company said the decision to put off the project was a commercial one.
The Browse LNG Joint Venture is made up of: Woodside Petroleum (49%); BP (16%); BHP Billiton (16%); Chevron (9.5%) and Shell (9.5%). The James Price Point location is being strongly pushed by Woodside's departing CEO Don Voelte, the Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett, and the Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson.
However, there has been growing disquiet from several of the Browse Joint Venture partners due to concerns about social, economic and technical issues associated with the proposed Kimberley location. Both Shell and BHP Billiton have recently voiced those concerns publicly in the media.
In September 2010, BHP Billiton CEO Michael Yeager said that the Browse project was yet to reach the "concept selection" stage. At BHP's annual general meeting in November, Chairman Jac Nasser said the Kimberley site faced "technical and other issues" and BHP would not progress with any project that "compromised its standards and values".
In September, Shell Australia chairwoman Ann Pickard told WA BusinessDay that Woodside needed to be careful not to ''back stakeholders into a corner'' following moves by the West Australian government to seize (‘compulsorily acquire') the land from its Aboriginal Native Title claimants.
The Browse Joint Venture has not received environmental approval from the Australian Federal Government to construct and operate a gas refinery and industrial port at James Price Point. Without this approval the project cannot proceed.