Green groups want WA's Kimberley region protected.
Western Australia’s Kimberley region is “facing death by a thousands cuts” if the big push for large scale resources projects succeeds, the Wilderness Society told The Mining Chronicle.
The environmental advocate’s WA campaign coordinator Peter Robertson (pictured above) said the drive was on for industrialisation for much of the Kimberley, not just as a result of Woodside’s James Price Point gas hub, but also coal mining and sweeping shale gas exploitation via fracking.
He said if these go ahead there would no turning back for the pristine region, recommended by the New York Times as one of the best places on the globe to visit.
In an effort they say is unprecedented in WA, the Wilderness Society and Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA) have joined forces to lobby political parties on environmental policies.
One month out from the state election and Western Australian environmental stalwarts are ramping up their campaigns to protect the Kimberley and prevent uranium mining.
Launched on 19 January in Premier Colin Barnett’s electorate at Cottesloe Beach, the Before It’s Gone Forever campaign will target key voters in the lead up to the election in March.
A statewide assessment led by CCWA and the Wilderness Society identified policy reforms in 12 key areas, which included protection of groundwater from gas fracking and strong investment in renewable energy, as key actions necessary to deliver a sustainable future for all Western Australians.
CCWA director Piers Verstegen said Western Australians loved the natural environment and will be looking to vote for a government that would protect WA’s special places and unique lifestyle.
“In four years’ time it will be too late for a number of WA icons – we need to act now, before they're gone forever,” he said.
In December CCWA welcomed the WA Government’s decision to create a no-mining zone around Horizontal Falls, but expressed concern that mining exploration activities would continue just 5km from this feature of the Kimberley coastline.
The government’s new plan institutes a two-year ban on mining in a zone directly around the falls.
The area remains surrounded by mining leases that allow for exploration and possible mining 5km from the falls, and the protection that has been put in place will be reviewed after two years.
Mr Verstegen said CCWA was extremely concerned by statements made by Pegasus Metals at the time that it would be expanding exploration activities in remaining mining leases in the McLarty ranges near Horizontal Falls.
Mr Robertson said the rapid growth of mines across the state would cause irreversible damage to the environment.
“Mining has spread rapidly across WA and there is almost nowhere it cannot or will not go,” he said.
“We are often told by politicians that a wealthy economy is the best way to ensure environmental protection. In WA we have one of the wealthiest economies in the world but in many respects our environmental protection standards are going backwards. This has to stop now.
“We’re not short of money or jobs, we’re short of political vision and leadership.”
Mr Robertson said the alliance was formed to make more of an impact and because conservation groups believed things were reaching critical times.
“We have had a strong core level of support for many years, but WA is changing demographically, with large numbers of people moving to WA who know little about our environment,” he said. “We want to make these people aware of what is happening in some of our
A Wilderness Society statement released in November said Western Australian Environment Minister Bill Marmion’s approval of the James Price Point gas processing precinct was so completely flawed that Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke could only reject the WA assessment, which breaches the Strategic Assessment Agreement between the two governments in many ways.
“This sham decision is hardly surprising since the WA Government is both the project’s proponent, through the Minister of State Development, Premier Colin Barnett, as well as its primary assessor,” Wilderness Society Kimberley campaign manager Glen Klatovsky said.
“With the WA Premier being the proponent of the James Price Point gas plant precinct, the entire WA assessment process has become a sham,” Mr Robertson said.
Woodside's proposed Browse LNG project came under renewed threat with the Wilderness Society WA and indigenous groups launching legal action against the approval process for the controversial project.
The conservation group and traditional owner, Goolarabooloo elder Richard Hunter, commenced Supreme Court legal proceedings in December against the State's Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and Mr Marmion over his approval in July.
“We’re determined to put up a strong fight and remain confident the project won’t go ahead – as well as the environmental, social and cultural concerns, it is not viable economically,” Mr Robertson said.
“Shale gas on the other hand will be a real fight. A lot of companies are eyeing that off.”
Again pointing the finger at the Premier, the Wilderness Society said Mr Barnett had, for the first time, drawn a strong link between his proposed gas hub at James Price Point and vast onshore shale gas deposits in the Kimberley’s Canning Basin.
As industry analysts increasingly doubt the economic viability of the Premier’s gas hub – and insist that 'floating' technology would be a more profitable way for Woodside and Shell to exploit gas from the offshore Browse Basin – comments in the media by Mr Barnett hinted at fracking in the Kimberley.
The Wilderness Society said the only way to extract the trillions of cubic feet of methane believed to be ‘locked up’ in the Canning Basin would be a massive gas fracking operation. Such a project would involve fracking wells, pipes, ponds and roads over thousands of square kilometres, and would have serious implications for the iconic Fitzroy River, important wetlands, and groundwater resources relied upon by Aboriginal communities and pastoralists.
Conservationists have long argued that the proposed gas factory at James Price Point is the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and that, if developed, it would lead to industrialisation of the wider Kimberley region.
Premier Barnett's recent comments demonstrate that those concerns were well-founded, and that exploiting gas from the Browse Basin is just part of the Premier's agenda as he continues to push for a gas hub at James Price Point.
Despite a number of uranium mining proposals in WA including Toro Energy’s Wiluna, and China-backed new uranium explorer Zeus Resources’ push to jump-start its exploration projects in WA, the industry looks uncertain, Mr Robertson said.
“Industry is always talking up prospects going forward, but there are strong signs all is not well across the planet – the many nuclear reactors failures for instance,” he said.
“While some companies are keen to bring on uranium mining in WA, giants such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are selling out. And even if Toro receives Federal Government approval, there is no guarantee there will be the market for it to go ahead.”
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