The community is concerned about Woodside and their JV partners upcoming work at James Price Point ahead of proper approvals. Marine scientist and environmental advocate Josh Coates tells us more below. Mr. Coates can be reached at j.coates@internode.on.net.  Be sure to click the ‘MORE’ button to see the whole article and to see whom you can contact to voice your opinion. BLAST THE WHALES – MULCH THE BUSH Pre-empting environmental and Indigenous approvals in the Kimberley Woodside and it’s joint venture partners BP, Chevron, Shell and BHP look to be attempting to overide local and national objections, environmental approvals processes and Indigenous consent process with a proposal to build an environmentally and culturally devastating gas processing factory on one of the last true wilderness coastlines in the world – at James Price Point 50km north of Broome, Kimberley, NW Western Australia (WA). The Kimberley onshore gas processing option is opposed by much of the local community, the majority of Indigenous land claimants for the area and Australian environment groups who all say that the alternative options of processing to the south in the industrialized Pilbara region or possibly via floating technology should be properly considered. The environmental assessment for the proposed gas plant is yet to be completed and released for public comment and the Kimberley Land Council recently suspended negotiations of behalf of Indigenous native title claimants regarding a land use agreement pending court actions and determination of who has the right to speak for the land in question, yet the joint venture is planning to clear land and conduct dangerous seismic testing in what looks like an attempt to circumvent proper process. A special environment The Kimberley region and coastline is currently one of the least impacted in the world and is home to special species such as turtles, rare snubfin dolphins and diverse and unique corals, seagrass and sponge garden communities. The area in question is also part of the nursery area for the world’s largest population of humpback whales, which have recovered well from the whaling days having escaped the worst impacts of industrial developments thus far. Blast the Whales? The presence of the whales is a thorn in the side of those who would turn the Kimberley into an industrial zone, but Woodside seems to have come up with a cynical solution – they have initiated a series of seismic testing (air gun sonic blasting) operations in the nursery and migration area and close to the proposed site timed to coincide with the peak birthing, suckling and breeding period! A number of studies have linked seismic testing to impacts on whales, though little is known about the effects on pregnant females or young. Why blast at this time of year, when the whales are most vulnerable and numerous? The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has decided there is no need to assess the offshore activity for its environmental impact, despite previous studies showing that seismic testing affects the behavior of whales. Meanwhile plans for inshore seismic testing right off James Price Point have not even been referred to the EPA for assessment by the Department of Mines and Petroleum! Mulch the Bush? Woodside has applied for approval to clear 25ha of land at James Price Point for ‘onshore investigations of site design’. The application is for approval commence clearing from August 2010, and would mark the beginning of serious onsite works for the LNG plant. This despite there being no final investment decision from the joint venture partners, who have been forced this far by an ultimatum on their lease renewals from the Federal resources and mining Minister Martin Fergusson despite having expressed preferences for alternative processing options in the Pilbara which make more environmental and even financial sense. The application has little detail and refers to removal of topsoil and mulching of vegetation to develop approvals documentation and inform precinct design. How mulching the environment will help develop environmental approvals documentation is not explained. The application comes with a map that highlights 3 areas, totaling far more than 25ha, where presumably clearing would take place at the discretion of Woodside and its contractors meaning an impact footprint estimated to be more like 734ha. Two of these areas are in close proximity to sensitive vine thicket vegetation (remnant rainforest) a community that is the subject of hot environmental debate and certainly an area which would receive much environmental scrutiny when approvals documentation is finally released. This vegetation community has been nominated as threatened under federal environmental law and clearing of this community or nearby vegetation is tantamount to environmental vandalism. A hidden agenda? The proposed world’s largest gas processing facility would inefficiently turn gas from the offshore Browse basin into liquid natural gas (LNG) which could then be exported. When the energy required mine, pipe, transport, process and ship this gas across the world the greenhouse gas impacts of extracting this gas would be not much better than just burning coal. The WA Government is pushing the Kimberley processing option, with its massive and environmentally unsound port facility, ‘cheap’ onshore fossil fuel power and associated infrastructure as part of a broader agenda to industrialise one of the world’s last great wild places. The State Government is now in a massive conflict of interest position as both the proponent of a gas processing ‘precinct’ and the environmental regulator assessing the proposal. Millions of dollars of tax-payers money has already been funneled into this project already subsidizing the operations of multinational oil and gas companies that continue to post massive profits despite dubious environmental and social track records and much more is slated to be spent if this madness continues. Take action Vegetation clearing application: The Department for Environment and Conservation Website says “Any interested person may submit comments regarding a proposal to clear native vegetation within the comment period. Comments are to be made in writing and directed to Native Vegetation Protection” Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), Native Vegetation Conservation Branch, Locked Bag 104, Bentley Delivery Centre, WA 6983 You should also send your message to the DEC CEO keiran.mcnamara@dec.wa.gov.au The comment period closes on 28 June 2010. A decision whether or not to approve the clearing permit is then made by DEC. If the clearing application is approved, there is a further 28 day period for appeals. The documents submitted by Woodside have been reposted by an environment group as they are very difficult to find on the DEC site and were advertised buried in the newspaper on a public holiday and are available here: clearing application form http://www.wilderness.org.au/pdf/CPS%203771%20-%20APPLICATION%20FORM%20-6.pdf , and map http://www.wilderness.org.au/pdf/CPS%203771_1%20-%20Map%20-9.pdf Whale nursery sonic blasting: Seismic testing should not be carried out during the period that the whales are in the area – from June to September each year. Please take the time to contact the EPA today and tell them you do not agree with their decision – email alanna.fandry@epa.wa.gov.au Contact Minister.Moore@dpc.wa.gov.au and let him know that the Department of Mines and Petroleum must refer this activity to the EPA and the Federal Government (Whales and activities that impact on them are a matter of national environmental significance under the Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act and should be referred to the department for assessment). The Department For Mines and Petroleum: Ph: +61 8 9222 3333 Fax: +61 8 9222 3862 Mineral House, 100 Plain Street , East Perth, Western Australia 6004 Links: News article on seismic testing: http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/wa-government-approves-seismic-survey-in-nw-whale-nursery/story-e6frg12c-1225875902404 More information on the seismic testing: http://www.kimberleypage.com.au/2010/06/opinion-martin-pritchard-on-seismic-blasting-near-whales/

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