EPA block massive West Australian energy project

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The Western Australian (WA) Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has advised against the massive Greater Gorgon liquefied natural gas project off WA's Pilbara coast. Proponents of the projects say Gorgon is one of Australia's biggest export ventures, scheduled to provide up to 6,000 jobs and exports of up to $1.2 billion.

EPA chairman Dr Wally Cox said the Gorgon project operators (Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell), had made an effort on flora and fauna issues but in its present state, the Gorgon proposal was "unacceptable." Gorgon LNG general manager Colin Beckett said that Gorgon was a world-class gas field and that the joint venture partners were confident that the decision would be reversed.

Environment Minister Mark McGowan said there was a definite process to be followed. The Minister says he will make a final decision on the Gorgon proposal after considering the EPA report - and any subsequent report from the Appeals Convenor. The EPA recommendations on the Gorgon proposal are subject to a two-week appeals period.

The EPA's Dr Cox said that joint venture had "not been able to demonstrate that impacts from dredging, the introduction of non-indigenous species and the potential loss of fauna could be reduced to acceptable levels."

In September 2003 the WA government provided "in-principle agreement" to the Gorgon joint venturers subject to a number of conditions. Dr Cox said that the Environmental Review and Management Programme had further highlighted the terrestrial and marine conservation values of Barrow Island and the adjacent waters.

"Flatback turtles in particular would be put at risk from the proposal with two of the most important nesting beaches located adjacent to the proposed LNG processing plant site and the materials off-loading facility," Dr Cox said. "There is very little science available on the life-cycle, behaviour and feeding habits of Flatback turtles and as a consequence it is not possible at this time to identify management measures that would ensure ongoing survival of this Pilbara Flatback turtle population."

Dr Cox also said that the Proponent had not been able to demonstrate that risk could be reduced to satisfactory levels in the areas of: Impacts on the marine ecosystem from dredging; The introduction of non-indigenous species; Potential loss of subterranean and short range endemic invertebrate fauna species. "As a result, the proposal in its present form cannot meet the EPA's environmental objectives and is considered environmentally unacceptable," Dr Cox said.

Government/Industry Support

Despite the EPA's decision to block the proposal, the Australian newspaper reports that WA Premier Alan Carpenter was prepared to overrule the EPA's advice: "While he stopped short of providing a guarantee the project would go ahead, Mr Carpenter said it involved "massive economic and social benefit" for the state."

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), has welcomed the bi-partisan support by the Premier, and the Leader of the Opposition, Paul Omodei, to the Gorgon project. APPEA's Chief Executive, Belinda Robinson, said. "It also involves the world's first commercial carbon sequestration project. It's hard to imagine what more could be done," Ms Robinson said.

"The Gorgon project is a world class gas resource of more than 40 trillion cubic feet, and its development has the potential to deliver 6,000 jobs, $2.5 billion in annual export income, and more than $17 billion in government taxes and royalties over its 60 year life," Ms Robinson said.

The Gorgon project proposal involves a two-train, 10 million metric-ton-per-year liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant and a domestic gas plant on Barrow Island, located off Australia's northwest coast. Home to Australia's largest operating onshore oil field for the past 40 years, the island is also a Class A nature reserve.

However, the Greens applauded the WA EPA's advice. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said in a media release: "This is the second time the WA EPA has knocked back this proposal. The proponents should review their options to put the project on the mainland, which will ultimately be a win for the regional economy and a win for the unique environment of Barrow Island."

"This is a proposal that should always have been located on the mainland. Proposing to build something on this scale inside Australia's most precious island nature reserve was deeply flawed from the beginning," said Senator Siewert. "The island has been dubbed 'Australia's Ark' for its unique cargo of endangered species, many of them now extinct or endangered on mainland Australia. He must take strong action to look after the island."