Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Opinion: Alan Eggleston on NW defence

Senator Alan Eggleston says the defence forces have neglected Australia’s north west for at least a decade.
He said our coast, with its oil, gas and resource developments is far more vulnerable than the east.
You can read his statement here:
Senator Alan Eggleston
Liberal Senator for Western Australia
Chair of Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
Deputy Chair of Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
Media Contact: Shannen Wilkinson Ph: (08) 9368 6633 Mob: 0422 103 772shannen.wilkinson@aph.gov.au
North West forgotten by ADF for past decade
May 28, 2012
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has not met its responsibility to Western Australia’s North West region and recommendations made in the Force Posture Review White Paper, according to Senator Alan Eggleston.
Under questioning by Senator Eggleston at today’s Senate Defence Committee Estimates, Chief of Defence Force General Hurley conceded that the North West hasn’t been part of their overall strategic thinking with their “attention elsewhere over the last decade”.
“It is reprehensible that the ADF is instead wedded to the North Queensland comfort zone where the vulnerability is minor compared to Western Australia’s coast, with more than $320 billion in minerals and oil and gas invested in the region,” Senator Eggleston said.
“I have been told that American investors in Western Australia’s oil and gas industry have already expressed concern that there is very little military presence or protection for these big investments.
“Current defence operations including patrol boats operating 90 days a year outside the region and P3’s flying over the airspace is not a high enough level of protection for this enormous investment industry.
“General Hurley’s announcement during Estimates for the ADF’s chief of logistics to review the ADF’s understanding of infrastructure and their ability to support operations and to look in 2013-14 at their capacity to conduct major exercises, maritime or land, will hopefully turn this East Coast mentality around.”
Senator Eggleston also welcomed General Hurley’s claim that he would take the ADF chief of staff committee to the North West to conduct a meeting with local industry and government to give them an understanding of the scale of the minerals and resources industry in the North West.
“The ADF needs to stop ‘considering’ how they might increase their presence in the North West and instead begin to implement the necessary infrastructure to make it happen,” Senator Eggleston said.

Gas Battle Heats Up In Australia

Few issues have focused the environmental movement in Australia as the fight to protect the Kimberley wilderness. The Australian liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry has seen a number of colossal projects commence in recent years, however few have attracted controversy like the Browse Basin project. This project involves the construction of a major LNG hub at James Price Point on Western Australia’s Kimberley coast. Opponents of the project claim that this hub will cause significant environmental damage to a fragile ecosystem, while the Western Australian State Government and the Australian Federal Government claim that Browse will deliver jobs, economic stimulus for Indigenous communities and a needed boost to the Australian economy.

As reported by Raina Spooner of WA Today, corporate risk expert Katherine Teh-White has stated that “Browse has become a national scandal.” Teh-White criticizes Woodside, who failed to work with the local community and develop a “social license to operate”. Instead, the local communities have steadfastly opposed the development, creating numerous delays which have thrown the future of the project into considerable doubt.

LNG Growth Gathering Momentum

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) state that by 2016, worldwide trade in LNG will have reached 230 million tons. Australian LNG production is set to increase markedly, with developments such as the AUD$43 Gorgon project, the AUD$34 billion Ichthys project and the similarly massive Pluto LNG project set to commence gas production in coming years.

Worldwide, LNG production is undertaking a significant period of expansion, with LNG viewed as a less polluting fossil fuel than brown coal or petroleum. ExxonMobil have predicated a four fold increase in the market for LNG by 2030; and such forecasts have led major US companies to increase their market share. Exxon Mobil have rapidly increased production since 2006, with chief executive Rex Tillerson stating that Qatar and the Gorgon and Jansz projects will contribute significantly to this growth. Similarly, ConocoPhillips have raised production in recent years, most notably through operations based in Qatar and Australia.

However, projects across the globe have drawn similar criticism to the Browse Basin development. A proposed LNG terminal for Long Island Sound wasquashed in 2009, when the US Department of Commerce opposed the plans for a massive terminal, which had been devised by a consortium of Shell Oil and TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. Furthermore, in 2007 Chevron scuttled plans for a US$650 million LNG terminal, which had been planned for Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. The project was abandoned, largely due to pressure from Mexican environmentalists, who claimed that the project would impact upon local wildlife populations.

Australian LNG Industry

The growth of the Australian LNG industry is being supported heartily by two primary players, Australian Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett.

Demonstrating this support, Minister Ferguson spoke volumes of the industry at the Oriental Mining Club in Beijing on November 4 2011, stating “the potential for (Australian) LNG exports is enormous.” As reported by Gas Today, Premier Barnett reaffirmed the opportunities presented by Australia’s burgeoning LNG industry, saying that “Western Australia’s proximity to Asian markets combined with the state’s largely undeveloped natural gas resources, places it in an ideal position to meet growing demand.” Barnett continued, clearly demonstrating his support for the industry stating that “The government is actively supporting the sector’s expansion by working to secure land and infrastructure for industry development.”

report released by the International Energy Agency predicted that Australia will be the world’s leading producer and exporter of LNG by 2020. As reported in The Australian on July 7th 2011 , upon releasing the report, IEA Chief Economist Faith Birol stated that “We think Australia will play a crucial role in the golden age of gas”. The expansion of the Australian LNG industry is being driven by healthy demand, which is coming from nearby markets in the Asia-Pacific region. A spokesperson from the Office of Premier Barnett stated that for Asian countries, Western Australia provides a “reliable and secure energy source, to support economic growth and improved living standards.”

This demand is borne out in a number of substantial supply contracts. In 2002, the federal government, led by Prime Minister John Howard, signed a 
25-year deal with China whereby 3 million tons of LNG would be supplied to China each year by Australian operations. Furthermore, in 2007, Woodside struck a deal with Chinese company PetroChina, whereby $AUD45 billion in LNG would be supplied from the Browse Basin project. Recently, the South Korean Government approved deals with Total and Royal Dutch Shell (at a total value of $US84 billion), whereby the companies would supply the country with LNG over a 20 year period, with the bulk of supply coming from Australia.

The Browse Basin LNG Project

The Browse Basin project is a $US30 billion enterprise, managed by a joint venture between Woodside, BHP Billiton, BP, Chevron and Shell.

As stated on the website of Woodside, the Australian company operating the project, “The Browse LNG development concept is to commercialize the Browse Joint Venture’s three gas and condensate fields, Brecknock, Calliance and Torosa, 400km off the Kimberley Coast.” The project description continues, describing that “Gas and liquids from these fields will be brought to an onshore LNG plant at the Western Australian Government’s Browse LNG precinct, 60 km north of Broome.” A spokesperson from the Office of Premier Barnett has described the benefits of the increased LNG production in Western Australia as including the creation of “thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of long term jobs, many of these located in regional towns.”

According to Woodside, the James Price Point location choice was “unanimously” decided upon by project partners. However this statement contradicts a cable released by Wikileaks showed that the Federal Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson forced the companies involved in the development into accepting James Price Point as the location for the LNG hub. This cable, dated December 11 2009, followed a decision from Ferguson, which meant that to ensure retention of project licenses, project partners were required to develop and submit a plan for producing LNG within 120 days, or walk away from the project. The cable demonstrates anger from the companies over this act, with Chevron’s Mike Edmonson stating that Ferguson’s “decisions are unprecedented and concerning”.

Environmental opposition

As reported by Natalie Muller, writing for Australian Geographic, there is passionate community opposition to the Browse Basin project. Speaking at a community meeting in Redfern, an inner city suburb of Sydney, Neil Mackenzie, spoke of the Kimberley , stating that “It is almost the last outback wilderness area in the world. What we have there is very precious.” The claims that the project would undermine the environmental integrity of the area are rejected by the Office of Premier Barnett, with a spokesperson stating that “Western Australia’s and Australia’s environmental approvals processes and impact management requirements are transparent, rigorous and comprehensive.”

Nevertheless, environmentalists are outraged at the location of the downstream processing facilities at James Price Point. Mark Jones, from the environmental group ‘Save The Kimberley’ provides a description of James Price Point, which he says consists of “red cliffs which meet the white sand and then the azure blue of the Indian Ocean . It is lined with sand dunes which act as bladders. Behind the dunes are ancient vine thickets”.

Jones states that the primary concerns surrounding the expansion of LNG include the “immediate effects, such as 50 square kilometers of marine dead zones, huge dredging tracts, loss of endangered species, destruction of dinosaur track ways and migration routes for marine species such as dolphins, whales and dugongs”. Premier Barnett has dismissed such concerns, however recent study led by Rosalind Rolland of the New England Aquarium, has found that shipping noise can have a significant effect on the viability of coastal dwelling whales. Co-author of a recent study conducted by the CSRIO, Dr Tara Martin, refers to the importance of the Kimberley region, saying that “We’re in the midst of an extinction event in Australia and the north has been the last stronghold for many native species of wildlife.” However, the fragility of the Kimberley region is underscored by the report, which states that 45 species native to the area will become extinct without a significant injection of funds to the area from state and federal governments.

There is considerable concern expressed by opponents of the project about Barnett’s apparent intention to transform the area into an industrial estate. Kevin Blatchford, also of the environment group Save the Kimberley, argues that “the reason why this site is being pushed is from political persuasion to power further development of the Kimberley area and open the area up for industry.” Peter Robertson, Western Australian state coordinator of Australian environmental organization ‘The Wilderness Society’ (TWS) considers the possibility of further developments in the area, such as alumina smelters and bauxite refineries, which could result in the James Price Point location being transformed into an industrial estate in the future. Despite this concern, Robertson is confident the project will not proceed at James Price Point. “(TWS) are quite certain that it’s not going to go ahead anyway. It hasn’t got any environmental approvals from state or federal governments.”

Protest Action

There has been significant conflict between those opposing the development and local police. Protestors opposing the development have been camped at blockades since mid 2011, with tents, showers, toilets, kitchen and vegetable garden created to support the action. The blockading actions have endured, despite police action which removed protestors from blockading the road to James Price Point in July 2011, which led to 25 arrests. An ABC report described the atmosphere created by the incident was “more like a war zone than a sunny Kimberley day.” More arrests have since followed, with tensions between police and protestors remaining high.

The tensions have undoubtedly been exacerbated by project operators Woodside. As mentioned by Jones, “Woodside contracted KBR. They then contracted a company called Hostile Environs Services. These people are ex-army who basically get around and film everything and all that information feeds into their intelligence”. The effect on the town has been pronounced, with protestors claiming that they have been victims of harassment and intimidation at the hands of Hostile Environs Services.

Journalist Antony Lowenstein recently visited the remote location, reporting “signs of collusion between the West Australian police and private security forces against Indigenous owners and protestors opposed to the development.” Furthermore, Lowenstein reported that he viewed “large amounts of footage detailing HES interrupting scientists gathering evidence of dinosaur tracks of the area”.

Native Title Agreement

For the project development to have commenced at James Price Point, the Western Australian Government compulsorily acquired the land for the project site. To enable the government to do this, a Native Title agreement had to be reached between the traditional owners of the land. This agreement was reached on June 30 2011, between the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr Native Title claim group, Woodside and the Western Australian State Government.

Federal Senator Rachel Siewart contends that Indigenous traditional owners of the land were pressured into the initial agreement with the Western Australian Government. Senator Siewart believes that state and federal governments “very definitely put pressure on local traditional owners to accept James Price Point as the site for this gas hub.” The Native Title agreement has divided traditional owners; with the compulsory land acquisition from the Western Australian government challenged in court by the Jabbir Jabbir people, who achieved a ruling in their favor on December 6 2011.

Retired Federal Court judge Murray Wilcox states that the ruling further jeopardizes the $1.5 billion Native Title agreement, forged between traditional owners of the land and the Western Australian state government. According to Wilcox, the process will have to be restarted due to the decision of the Supreme Court, with a new agreement to be forged. However, Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett remains defiant. “We reached an agreement under the Native Title Act with the Aboriginal owners of that land and that was by consent and that agreement still stands.”

Woodside Selling 15 per cent stake

On May 1st 2012, it was announced that Woodside had sold 15 per cent of its 46 per cent share in the Browse venture, reducing ownership of the venture to 31.3 per cent. The 15 per cent stake, valued at AUD $2 billion, was purchased by Japan Australia LNG, whose parent companies are Japanese trading houses, Mitsui and Co. and Mitsubishi Corporation. There is conjecture as to how this deal will effect the proposed location of the LNG hub at James Price Point. “It is unclear what the implications will be for the development,” states Robertson. However, Robertson refers to the opposition expressed by joint venture partners to the James Price Point location, stating that it is “more likely that the gas will be pumped to Karratha (industrial town, 830km south west of Broome).” Adding to the pressures experienced by Woodside, are mounting project costs, which the Business Spectatorreported have risen from $US30 billion to $US40 billion.


Through their development of the Browse Basin project, Woodside have enjoyed unequivocal support from the Western Australian and Australian governments. However, the company failed to account for any public backlash to their plans. Rather than engaging with people who were uncertain about, or opposed to, the development, the company hired a firm to gather intelligence on the community. As a result of such poor public consultation, Woodside lost public trust and lost credibility, which has now placed the future of the Browse Basin project in doubt. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Woodside in court over James Price Point works

ABC News

Traditional land owners have taken Woodside to the Supreme Court to stop work at the site of the proposed Kimberley Gas Hub.
Woodside maintains it has the necessary approvals to access James Price Point north of Broome, where ground works began last week.
But Goolarabaloo man Richard Hunter launched a case today claiming the approval process was not followed correctly by Woodside or the Shire of Broome.
Mr Hunter's lawyer, Josie Walker, says if this can be proved, the entire approval process could be deemed invalid.
"The development assessment panels went ahead and decided to grant the approval at its very first meeting despite considerable objections," she said.
"We say the process was rushed and they also didn't comply with the notification requirements so it seems like their approval is not valid that they're relying on."
If the court rules in Mr Hunter's favour, Woodside could be ordered to stop work immediately.
Woodside says it does not comment on legal matters.
The company says it is finalising engineering, site investigation and environmental studies for the proposed development as the project approaches a final investment decision which is expected to be made in the first half of 2013.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

James Price Point world's only landscape to be shaped by dinosaur traffic

By Ben Collins

Peer-reviewed scientific research says that the intertidal area near the planned controversial gas processing precinct at James Price Point is the world's only preserved landscape that was shaped by dinosaur traffic.

Dr Tony Thulborn is an expert on dinosaur footprints and has studied most of Australia's best sites, including the intertidal area of the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome. In his latest study published in the peer-reviewed online journal PLoS ONE, he outlines his findings that the intertidal area near the site for a planned controversial industrial development, north of Broome in Western Australia, is the only landscape in the world that was created by dinosaurs.

Dr Thulborn says "I think it's the only place on earth where you can actually see an ancient landscape that has been moulded on that scale by the comings and goings of dinosaurs everyday."

James Price Point was just another camping spot north of Broome until 2009 when it was chosen as the State Government's preferred location for a precinct to process gas from the extensive fields in the off-shore Browse Basin. Since that time it has been the centre of a growing controversy with concerns about impacts on Aboriginal Heritage, surrounding communities and the natural environment. As attention focussed on the red sandy cliffs and large intertidal rocky shoreline, it became apparent that Cretaceous dinosaur footprints extended from Broome, through the development area, and right along the 200 kilometre coastline of the Dampier Peninsula. The value of these prints was recognised in a 2010 decision by the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, when he included this long stretch of intertidal area in a broad listing of much of the Kimberley as National Heritage.

Dr Thulborn's latest research is the first peer-reviewed study to single out James Price Point as being exceptional within the broader dinosaur trackway.

"What's interesting about James Price Point in particular is that it seems to be a major intersection on that dinosaur highway" he says.

The dinosaurs in question were predominantly sauropods: Brontosaurus-type dinosaurs which include the largest animals to ever walk on Earth. Dr Thulborn's research focuses on the impact large numbers of these animals, thought to weigh up to 60 tonnes, left on the landscape. He has found the James Price Point intertidal area has preserved the 130 million year old Cretaceous landscape where sauropod pathways subsided under the weight of the immense dinosaurs.

"All the channels filled with water are the big troughs and thoroughfares that were trampled down by big groups of dinosaurs moving along" says Dr Thulborn, "I think it's the only site on the planet. I think it's worth saving."

Dr Thulborn is keen to point out that his scientific paper has passed through rigorous peer-reviewing and that he doesn't want to get involved in the politics. However he has previously voiced his concern about the impact of any industrial development on his beloved dinosaur footprints, and facilitated a letter of concern being signed by 80 of his colleagues from around the world expressing that sentiment in 2009.

When asked about the proposed gas precinct being located a few kilometres south of the main James Price Point intertidal area, Dr Thulborn says "Let's just say that I'm...extremely wary. I think there will be damage, and I think it's extremely unfortunate."

The gas precinct is a State Government project with Woodside Petroleum investigating whether they want to commit to becoming the foundation proponent. In a response to Dr Thulborn's research the Department of State Development released a statement saying:

The Western Australian Government contracted two palaeontologists with internationally recognised expertise and interest in dinosaur footprints and track-ways to provide more definitive information about dinosaur footprints at, and near, the proposed Browse LNG Precinct north of Broome.

The palaeontologists' findings and their report will be released when the EPA has completed its consideration of the Strategic Assessment Report and made recommendations regarding the precinct project.

The Environmental Protection Authoritiy (EPA) will base its recommendations on the palaeontologists report and other submissions it has received, and will include any necessary management or mitigation measures if disturbance of fossils is considered possible.

The EPA is due to release its assessment of the environmental impacts from the planned precinct mid 2012.

You can read Dr Thulborn's research here.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Luxury expedition vessel's missions of mercy

Luxury expedition vessel's missions of mercy

THINK of North Star Cruises, the Broome-based company that pioneered adventure cruising along Western Australia's Kimberley coast more than 25 years ago, and luxury immediately comes to mind.
Owner Craig Howson wanted a vessel in a class of its own to carry just 36 passengers and a crew of 20 when he ordered the purpose-built 50m mono-hull True North.
Looking like a super yacht from a James Bond movie, True North has a sundeck, a forward observation lounge, alfresco bar and a fine-dining room with enormous windows that offer uninterrupted views.
There's even an airconditioned helicopter permanently on board.
Yet there is another side to this up-market cruise line that not many people, other than its passengers, would know about.
True North has operated numerous mercy missions since it began cruising around Papua New Guinea seven years ago.
As senior master Gav Graham puts it, "We came as strangers, became acquainted and now we are family."
"When our guests and crew first met Jerry's pregnant wife, Gloria, we thought she was carrying twins by the size of her belly," Graham says.One such True North mission involves Jerry, a guide at Sebutuia in Milne Bay, where passengers are taken to see the rare and threatened goldie's bird of paradise (named after Scotsman Andrew Goldie, who discovered the bird in 1882).
"When we returned 10 days later, Jerry was not there to meet us. He had taken Gloria and their daughter Glenda in a dugout canoe to a nursing post a day's paddle away.
"When we arrived there, a nurse simply said: 'Problem inside. Maybe baby die. Maybe both mother and baby die.'
"Gloria was not looking at all well, so we brought them on board True North and steamed overnight to the hospital in Alotau, the remote provincial capital in eastern Papua New Guinea, making sure Jerry and Glenda had money, food and accommodation.
"A few weeks later we received news that Gloria had a healthy baby boy named Gav Junior -- after me, I'm very pleased to say -- and that she was on the way to recovery."
Jerry and Gloria have since had another baby, Jendalina, and the crew and passengers of True North visit the family every year.
Another of True North's remarkable stories relates to Joyce, an 11-year-old girl who lived on a remote island in the Louisiade Archipelago with her family, including five sisters.
Joyce suffered horrendous burns to 40 per cent of her body when her grass skirt went up in flames at an open fire that was being used for cooking.
Nitty Oregioni, a True North cruise director, went to visit staff at the Catholic Mission hospital on Nimoa Island, where she found Joyce in dreadful pain.
The nuns were doing their best to soothe the wounds on the little girl's back, thighs, buttocks and arms with fresh dressings and antibiotics, but they didn't have the specialist facilities needed to treat burns victims.
For months on end, Joyce, who could not roll on to her back, had to lie on her front while dressings were peeled off and her wounds were sponged. "Imagine her suffering," Graham says.
With assistance from Rotary Oceania Medical Aid for Children, the True North team and two passengers, Doug and Ann Rathbone, arranged for Joyce to be flown to Melbourne for treatment at the Monash Medical Centre, where burns specialist surgeon Chris Kimber performed the first of a series of skin grafts.
Graham tells me, "Joyce had just the warmest smile when we found her [again] and today she is 14 years old and living a normal life." More: northstarcruises.com.au/philanthropy

Social media used to collect information on marine wilderness

Murdoch University

Researchers from Murdoch University's Cetacean Research Unit are working with colleagues from Duke University in the US and Marine Ventures Foundation on an innovative project that will use social media to collect information on one of the world's last great marine wildernesses. Ashley Yeager from Duke University explains.

Just offshore from the rust-colored cliffs of northwestern Australia lie what could be the world's richest petroleum and natural gas fields. The site is also "the last great marine wilderness left on Earth," said Duke University marine biologist Dave Johnston.

To study the remaining wilderness, Johnston has teamed with a Duke alumnus and Australian colleagues at Murdoch University to create a citizen science experiment that will collect observations of the one of the last great marine wildernesses on earth by local residents, traditional owners and tourists through social media tools.

"Our greatest concern is that the traditional environmental assessment process is overwhelmed," said team member Associate Professor Lars Bejder, a marine biologist in Murdoch's Cetacean Research Unit. "The current approval process does not allow sufficient time to document baseline information on the ecosystems of Northwestern Australia through standard scientific means and still keep pace with the rate of development. We hope our approach can help fill some of these gaps," he said.

During several expeditions to Western Australia, the team will document the state of the coastal ecosystems, with a particular focus on the snubfin and humpback dolphins. They also hope to build a network of citizen scientists who will share their experiences in the region through Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube updates. The updates will automatically feed, in real-time, onto an open-access map.

The team hosted their first public lecture on the project at 5:30 WST local time on May 23 at Murdoch University in Perth. This is the first, large-scale experiment in Australia to draw on citizen scientists and social media for data, and the team is not sure what the outcome will be.

"We've seen how these democratizing technologies have incredible power to affect lives. Now, they could do the same for the environment," said team member Thomas McMurray, who earned his doctoral degree in engineering at Duke and serves on the board of visitors for its Nicholas School of the Environment. McMurray is also president of the Marine Ventures Foundation, which, with support from BlueCloud Spatial, will provide the technical support to make the scientists' and citizens' data publicly available.

The main site of research will be in the Kimberley, home to 40,000 Aboriginal Australians. Endangered sea turtles lay eggs on the region's shores, and just offshore an estimated 28,000 humpback whales breed in the winter. The nearshore coastal waters are also home to the little-known Australian snubfin and humpback dolphins.

Bejder and Johnston are particularly concerned about the dolphins because of the lack of information on the abundance, habitat needs and behaviors of the two species. The government has designated certain areas as marine sanctuaries to protect the breeding grounds of humpbacks and other fragile marine ecosystems. But many of those protected regions border on, or overlap with, sites rich in natural resources and the sanctuaries have not been completely set apart from development.

"There's billions of dollars of natural gas out there that could make the country rich," McMurray said. "With the shaky state of the world economy and close proximity to China, the oil and gas available in the region and at other sites could turn Australia into an energy superpower that could rival Venezuela and Saudi Arabia." He said that the Australian government may be faced with difficult choices when balancing the development of wealth-building resources with the conservation of biological and cultural ones.

In 2010, oil and gas industries achieved record growth in Western Australia, exporting nearly $103 billion USD. Another $253 billion USD of projects are scheduled or already under construction. "The region is clearly open for business. But what’s not clear is how the development of oil and gas resources will affect many species or the habitats they rely on," Johnston said.

To support the growing industry, the government has approved great expansions to the region's industrial ports. The construction includes digging hundreds of millions of gallons of sand from beneath port waterways to make them navigable to larger ships. Moving all of that sand and sediment is causing unprecedented, large-scale changes to coastal habitats, which "are likely to affect species such as coastal dolphins that are dependent on the same nearshore environment," Bejder said.

As the different types of data accumulate, the team will be able to apply new analytical tools to figure out how and where human activities and marine resources overlap and potentially conflict. The data and the map may "help provide transparency on what oil and gas companies are doing," McMurray said.
Related expert in this field:
Lars Bejder

Dr Lars Bejder

Impact of tourism on whales and dolphins
Dr Lars Bejder leads the world’s largest study into the impact of tourism on whales and dolphins, and Murdoch’s Cetacean Research Unit.
His research on the impact of whale watching in Shark Bay led to the Western Australian Government’s decision to decrease the number of licensed dolphin watching tour operators in the state to ensure sustainability.
Dr Bejder’s research is also helping the Hawaiian State Government in the US to create legislation protecting their native dolphins from the impact of tourism.
For more information, or to contact this expert, please get in touch with Val McFarlane

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Kimberley coral spawning treats scientists to rare show

Thursday, 24 May 2012 10:00
Science Network Western Australia

CORAL spawning in the Kimberley coastline was recently first-witnessed by WA researchers, as slicks of blue and pink gametes lit the dark waters after sunset.

coral spawnDr Andrew Heyward from the Australian Marine Science Institute, who provided guidance to the KMRS leading up to the event, says observing the coral spawning is a first step in identifying the key seasonal patterns for corals along the Kimberley coast. Image:hjk_888

Recorded about 6.30pm on March 17 at the WAMSI partnered Kimberley Marine Research Station (KMRS) in Cygnet Bay, Research Officer Ali McCarthy says “the combination of natural phenomena with the wild wet season weather overhead and this remarkable spawning snowstorm under the surface was genuinely awe-inspiring.”
“We saw the first signs of spawning activity as turquoise gametes were released from the Faviid and Mussid corals and shortly afterwards, the Acroporid corals began releasing their gametes into the water and the aquariums were awash with slicks of blue and pink spawn.”
“From a scientific perspective, it was really exciting in that this was something new, not just for me or for us at KMRS, but for the greater Kimberley coastline as a whole, where it had been acknowledged that in general the finer details of spawning activity along the mainland Kimberley coast were not well studied and had not yet been observed directly for science.”
Dr Andrew Heyward from the Australian Marine Science Institute, who provided guidance to the KMRS leading up to the event, says observing the coral spawning is a first step in identifying the key seasonal patterns for corals along the Kimberley coast.
“If it turns out most corals spawn along the Kimberley at certain times of year then we can look at the currents and get a much better idea of which way the spawn will travel and hence, how connected different parts of the coast are.
“At a broader level, these initial observations at Cygnet Bay show that for some coral species at least, their reproductive patterns and timing are the same as offshore reefs in the region such as Scott Reef and the Rowley Shoals.
“As we extend these studies, it may be that the biology of corals in the region is shown to be quite similar to what we know from better studied reef areas.”
Although spawning demonstrates a time of renewal for our reef building corals, Ms McCarthy says the Kimberley corals as a whole are not well understood due to their remoteness.
“It is only in recent years that their uniqueness and high biodiversity have been explored and recognised in a western science perspective,” she says.
The observations are just a building block from which to launch further investigations and establish monitoring programs.
It is hoped the KMRS can begin to collate a series of data over time and start to fill the knowledge gaps that surround the Kimberley marine environment.

Plan to drill sacred sites inflames dispute

Goolarabooloo Lawmen at James Price PointWOODSIDE Energy has sought permission to drill on Aboriginal sacred sites at its proposed $40 billion James Price Point gas hub near Broome, setting the company and West Australian government on a collision course with traditional owners who remain camped at the site.
The company lodged a Section 18 notice with WA's Registrar of Aboriginal Sites on May 18 for permission to damage sites and indigenous groups have been given until next Friday to respond.
The issue threatens to further inflame relations between indigenous groups over the James Price Point development.
The Kimberley Land Council, which has negotiated a $1.5bn compensation package for the gas hub development, is understood to have helped Woodside draft its Section 18 application for ministerial consent to work in the area.
But the work program is bitterly opposed by the Goolarabooloo, who have been at odds with the KLC and who claim native title and cultural heritage rights over the area.
Goolarabooloo law boss Joseph Roe said Woodside's drilling program to test the feasibility of the James Price Point liquefied natural gas project would damage areas that had been recognised for their heritage values since 1991.
A Woodside spokesman said if approved, all activities in the area would be monitored by representatives of the traditional owners and be conducted under a cultural heritage management plan.
He said the company planned to undertake a limited range of engineering and environmental studies in areas south of James Price Point that are known to contain indigenous heritage sites. "In executing this work Woodside will avoid sites where possible, or minimise any disturbance to them," the spokesman said.
The drilling program is understood to include the area where pipes come ashore from the Browse Basin gas field and surrounding sand dunes, which contain extensive heritage areas.
"There are some old ceremonial grounds in there," Mr Roe said yesterday. "It is part of the song cycle and inside the song cycle there are old ceremonial grounds used for the initiation of boys."
Mr Roe said his family would contest the Section 18 application. "The whole family, including children, will go to the camp to stop the work," he said.
About 150 police reinforcements were sent to Broome last week to oversee the closure of one protest camp and ensure the company could get its earthmoving machinery to the James Price Point site.
A Goolarabooloo camp located closer to the worksite remains in place.
Mr Roe's lawyer, Andrew Chalk, said the matter was further complicated by the failure of the state government's compulsory acquisition of the James Price Point land, which he said threw the validity of the whole KLC agreement into question.
Mr Roe said Woodside's Section 18 application proved the company did not have all the approvals it needed to conduct its feasibility work, as it had claimed.
Mr Chalk has previously written to Woodside and its joint venture partners warning directors it would be a criminal offence to damage sites at James Price Point without approval under the Aboriginal Heritage Act. Mr Chalk has also provided Woodside with maps with the location of the sites.
He said Woodside's lack of approval called into question the WA government's decision last week to spend $1 million on police resources to help Woodside get its machinery past protesters.
Mr Chalk said it was possible Woodside might receive ministerial consent for its Section 18 application despite objections.
"The idea of the act affording protection is a bit of a mirage," he said.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Battle for the Kimberley

Police chaperone equipment taken to the  gas hub site at James Price Point, the development of which is opposed by locals.
Police chaperone equipment taken to the gas hub site at James Price Point, the development of which is opposed by locals. Photo: Angela Wylie

Jan Mayman
The Age
May 24, 2012

On the face of it, a $35 billion gas plant, ancient rock art and pristine coastal waters that attract wildlife and tourists don't go well together. No wonder sparks are flying in Broome.

ONCE it was paradise, an enchanted land of wild beauty, with endless beaches of dazzling white sand beneath magnificent red cliffs along the Kimberley coast. For more than a century people from all over the world were drawn there by the pearl-rich sea. In the old port of Broome, they settled and intermarried, creating a place of racial harmony unique in Australia, with its own language, cuisine and music. In more recent times tourists have flocked there to enjoy its idyllic charm.

But everything is changing. The West Australian government wants to turn Broome into another Dubai, with a $35 billion liquefied natural gas plant 60 kilometres north of the town at pristine James Price Point. If it wins federal government approval it will be the world's biggest, producing 12 million tonnes of liquefied gas a year.

But the project, driven by an international consortium led by Australia's Woodside Petroleum, has bitterly divided Broome's 16,000 residents. Some say industrialisation will destroy their town and its main income, tourism. Others see it as a way to get rich. Neighbours now abuse each other in the street, even hurling racial insults at their former friends. And every day protesters of all races picket the road to the gas site.

Dr Anne Poelina, a Nyikina woman from the Kimberley, opposes the gas hub site. Photo: Damian Kelly

A squad of 140 riot police recently flew in from Perth to protect convoys of mining equipment being rolled out to the development site for what Woodside has described as exploration works. WA's Police Commissioner, Karl O'Callaghan, said the planned 10-day operation would cost about $1 million.

Half the police force left the town after just nine days, their only arrests being two grandmothers charged with obstructing police, after chaining themselves to a van for seven hours and blocking vehicles heading to the Point site. They are due to appear in a Broome court next month.

The planned LNG plant would process natural gas pumped up from the seabed at Browse Basin 400 kilometres away, and ship it out through a vast new port at James Price Point.

Bush clearing is well advanced at the 2500-hectare site, which was made available by the WA government, even though Woodside is not expected to announce a final decision about whether or not it will build the plant until the first half of next year. It also needs federal government approval to proceed.

Meanwhile, community opposition to the project is growing rapidly. A loose coalition of environmentalist groups has launched a national campaign to stop the project, supported by Aboriginal people desperate to protect sacred heritage sites and ancient graves.

WA Premier Colin Barnett had threatened to compulsorily acquire the land without compensation if Aboriginal Traditional Owners refused to sign contracts that cleared the way for work to begin at James Price Point.

The traditional owners' representative body corporate, the Kimberley Land Council, signed a series of agreements with the government and Woodside last year, a deal that left many Broome people of all races shocked and angry.

Some Aboriginal leaders signed reluctantly, convinced it was their only way to a better life. They were promised benefits worth $1.5 billion over the next 30 years in the form of better housing, education, jobs and health care. "Why should we have to give up our land to get the kind of benefits all Australians are entitled to anyway?" says Dr Anne Poelina, an indigenous woman and deputy shire president of Broome, who was speaking as a private individual. (Mayor Graeme Campbell was out of town and unavailable for comment.)

Poelina belongs to one of numerous old Broome families strongly opposing the development at James Price Point, which Aborigines call Walmadan."Why has the state government taken over such a big area of land from our local government to give to an international mining group?" she says.

"The mining industry is heavily supported by the government already, everything from diesel fuel subsidies to tax concessions. This is just more corporate welfare."

Poelina says many Broome people are not opposed to the production of LNG, but they don't want the plant at this "special location" with its ancient Aboriginal culture and history.

"The gas should be brought ashore to the Pilbara, which is already heavily industrialised. Woodside has gas-processing plants there already."

Poelina, a social scientist, flies off on Saturday to a UNESCO conference in Paris, where she will be one of the key speakers. "I'll be telling all those international guests what's happening here," she says.

The proposed gas hub will straddle the pristine Dampier coast, where the ocean is rich in wildlife, including dolphins, whales, dugongs and giant rays.

Onshore, there are prehistoric footprints of 15 varieties of dinosaurs, many of which are unique to this place, according to scientists. Some of the best examples are in the James Price Point precinct, says Dr Steve Salisbury, a dinosaur expert at the University of Queensland. He fears that even exploratory drilling by Woodside could damage this "extraordinary" site, and he says it should be protected by a wide buffer zone. "The vibrations of the drilling machinery can be felt for kilometres," he says.

Woodside says it is test drilling as part of a geophysical exploration survey, but maintains it uses GPS technology to avoid drilling near the national heritage area that contains the dinosaur footprints.

Businessman Geoff Cousins, the millionaire advertising genius who masterminded the triumphant campaign against Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania, is now working to stop the development. He points out that if the massive gas hub goes ahead at James Price Point a port also has to be built.

"Because of the extreme tidal movements in the Kimberley, an area of dredging stretching over six kilometres out to sea has to be maintained for the life of the plant — approximately 50 years," he says.

"Woodside describes the effects of this dredging in its annual report as 'temporary'. Approximately 1500 large ships have to come and go each year and innumerable support vessels. The impact of the constant dredging and the use of sonar devices on migratory and breeding whales would be enormous.

"But while the federal government is busy telling the Japanese not to kill whales, it is remarkably silent on this aspect of their procreation, or indeed their simple enjoyment of life. Death, apparently, is what matters, politically speaking."

Cousins says he will never give up on this battle to save Kimberley. "Every time I think it's not worth the fight, the facts get in the way. The Kimberley is the last remaining pristine savannah region left on the planet. The oceans are the cleanest and have the most complex and rare marine environment on earth. The cultural heritage and rock art are beyond any measure of their worth. It's obvious why you'd try to keep them."

MEANWHILE some members of the development consortium, which also includes BHP Billiton, Shell, BP, Chevron, Mitsubishi and Mitsui, are privately dubious about the potential profitability of the Kimberley project, amid concerns about rising costs, and reports of a weakening market for LNG exports.

Martin Pritchard, director of Environs Kimberley, is a Welsh scientist who fell in love with Broome and made his home there. Now he is campaigning to stop the project, which he says would have an enormous impact on tourism in the area.

"Premier Colin Barnett wants to industrialise this place, despite the federal government recently putting 17 million hectares under national heritage listing because of its environmental and cultural importance to the nation and the world."

Though the nearly 425,000-square-kilometre region is rich in mineral resources such as bauxite, coal, uranium, and copper, it is still undeveloped because of the difficult terrain, lack of roads and prohibitive production costs.

But opponents of the project say with 34 trillion cubic feet of gas waiting for exploitation in the Browse Basin, and an output of 12 million tonnes of LNG a year, the plant could lead to large-scale industrialisation across the region.

The WA government clearly views the Kimberley as another Pilbara, an extraordinary resource for mining companies and rich source of royalties for the state for the rest of the century.

Countless government reports have been written about the project's potential over the years. The gas could provide the power for an alumina refinery to process enormous bauxite resources in the remote Mitchell Plateau in the far northern Kimberley, deposits that have attracted the keen interest of a series of would-be miners. The area is now inhabited only by Aboriginal groups living in a near-traditional way. Like so much of the Kimberley hinterland, the area is rich in burial caves and ancient rock art.

"Many respected financial analysts have said it would be $10 billion cheaper to pipe the gas to the Pilbara, so why sacrifice the Kimberley?" says Pritchard. "It only makes sense if you see through the smoke and mirrors that the Western Australian Liberal-National government are using.

"Once you can see their agenda, to dig the Kimberley up and ship it out, everything falls into place."

But Premier Barnett says the James Price site is unexceptional, and insists it must be the location for the LNG plant. If the gas was brought ashore to the Pilbara, the benefit package to Kimberley Aborigines could not be paid, he says.

Publicly, Woodside appears unfazed by the growing community opposition to the project, which has the strong backing of the government. "We have all of the necessary consents and approvals needed to undertake this work," a company spokesperson told The Age.

"Sites of heritage value at the precinct will be managed in accordance with the conditions of the environmental and heritage approvals the project requires to proceed."

But Mitch Torres, an award-winning Broome indigenous filmmaker, is "horrified" by the potential for environmental and social devastation.

"Broome was a very special place — a microcosm of what Australia could be, a place where everyone lived happily together," she says. "This is what has attracted people here for so long. Now the government wants to destroy it all."

With family ties to traditional owners of the proposed plant site, she says she is heartbroken at the loss of the ancestral country where they and her people spent their happiest times.

She was also shocked by the way the Kimberley Land Council was pressured into signing the deal with the WA government.

"I followed the negotiations closely," she says. " The government used divide-and-conquer tactics to get its way. The lawyers told us we had no chance of winning our case in the courts. People believed them."

Torres is planning to record the story in a new film. Her last documentary celebrated the legendary Aboriginal guerilla leader Jandamarra, who died in a failed attempt to save the Kimberley from white invaders.

Premier Barnett described the Kimberley Land Council's agreement with his government as "the most significant act of self-determination by Aboriginal people in the country".

Once Woodside was finished with the land, he said, the James Price Point site would be rehabilitated and returned as freehold to the Aboriginal people. But because it was a long-term project, this would not happen for 50 to 100 years.

Jan Mayman is a Perth-based writer.

Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/environment/battle-for-the-kimberley-20120523-1z5fb.html#ixzz1vjo3o5IT