Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kimberley to be next resource bonanza

Kimberley to be next resource bonanza

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 23/10/2012
Reporter: Matthew Carney
The Kimberley in the north west of Australia has some of the biggest gas, coal, uranium and bauxite reserves in the world and plans to carve it up are well under way but there are concerns that development will destroy the environment.


EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The current mining boom may have passed its peak but there is a resources bonanza waiting to fuel many more.

The Kimberley in the north-west of Australia has some of the biggest gas, coal, uranium and bauxite reserves in the world.

Tonight, Lateline can reveal the secret plans to industrialise the Kimberley with the potential to power the Australian economy for hundreds of years.

A company that's getting in early is being accused of bending the laws and poisoning the environment in this modern day gold rush.

Matthew Carney travelled to the Kimberley for this exclusive report.

POLICE OFFICER: If you fail to comply, police officers will use reasonable force to remove you and you may be subject to arrest.

MATTHEW CARNEY, REPORTER: The battle at James Price Point, 60 kilometres north of Broome, has been long, bitter and divisive. The Western Australian Government and Woodside have been trying to land an industrial hub here. They want to turn natural gas - sourced thousands of kilometres out to sea at the Browse Basin - into liquid gold, LNG, and to deliver jobs and growth to the state.

PROTESTER: We will be here day in, day out.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Environmentalists, local residents and some Indigenous leaders say the gas hub will destroy the pristine Kimberley coast forever.

PHILLIP ROE, TRADITIONAL OWNER, JAMES PRICE POINT: It's our heritage, our law, our culture and our songs in this, right through here is something very important and it's alive still today as it is. While we're alive that thing is still alive.

PETER TUCKER, CHAIRMAN, SAVE THE KIMBERLEY: We knock this on the head and I think it just gives us, collectively, those that don't want to see the industrialisation of the Kimberley in an ad hoc fashion, it gives us the opportunity then to be on the front foot for other projects that we know are in the melting pot.

MATTHEW CARNEY: And there is a much bigger battle looming, and it's inland of James Price Point. Australia's next resource bonanza lies onshore, in the wilds of the remote Kimberley.

The extent of resources and minerals up for grabs is staggering. Bauxite, diamonds, oil, uranium, gold, iron ore, coal and gas, all of world class reserves. Unknown to most, the carve up of the Kimberley is well under way. About 80 per cent is already under exploration lease.

PETER TUCKER: Iconic places, stunning places, both culturally and environmentally like the Mitchell plateau, the horizontal waterfalls, the Napier ranges, all these places are under serious threat.

WAYNE BERGMANN, CEO, KRED ENTERPRISES: The pressure is coming on us that all indications is Government want to blow it up, dig it up, drill it out, pump it, send it, sell it overseas. We're really concerned because there is no policy in place to ensure responsible development.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The Government of Western Australia says it won't be "development at any cost" and the Kimberley's unique environment will be protected.

NORMAN MOORE, WA MINISTER FOR MINES AND PETROLEUM: I have a view that's quite simple: that if we can encourage mining companies and resource development companies to spend a lot of money, as they have to, in Western Australia then they are creating wealth and creating jobs, and it's all about the state's economy and it's all about growth.

MATTHEW CARNEY: One of the first companies operating in the Kimberley interior is Buru Energy. They've struck oil and begun producing commercially on a small scale at the rate of 100,000 litres a day.

ERIC STREIGBERG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BURU ENERGY: We have a very vigorous exploration program going on. The Ungani field was something that was a very nice surprise for us and we think there's a potential to find quite a few more of them. So hopefully we'll be able to produce a big proportion of Western Australia's oil needs.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The company has also been targeting one of Australia's largest gas reserves: the Canning Super Basin. The reserves onshore potentially dwarf what Woodside is developing offshore at the Browse Basin. So much so the United States Energy Information has tagged the Canning Super Basin as one of the world's next hot spots, with the potential of 229 trillion cubic feet of gas.

By comparison, Woodside plans to exploit only 13 trillion cubic feet in the Browse Basin. The WA Government wants the Canning Basin to be the powerhouse for the state for the next century.

NORMAN MOORE: The onshore gas we hope will be available to service the West Australian domestic economy. At the moment our economy is not big enough to use the sort of gas that we currently may have, but that's going to grow in time.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The plan to industrialise the Kimberley has been in place since 2005, and this is the Western Australian Government's blueprint. It's an extensive guide that costs and locates new ports, industrial hubs and highways to support large scale resource developments, such as an LNG plant and an aluminium smelter to name just a few.

Confidential cabinet papers obtained by Lateline show that plans to develop the Kimberley stepped up after the Liberal Party won the WA election in 2008.

The Barnett Government set up an industry working group with major resource companies to recommend changes to legislation to fast-track approvals.

ROBIN CHAPPLE, GREENS MEMBER OF WA LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: We've amended the planning act to facilitate development assessment panels which override local government, and we're in the process of proposing to amend the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The political opposition says the purpose is to strip back the powers of the Environment and Indigenous ministers and to centralise decision making into the hands of the Premier and the Minister for Mines and Petroleum.

ROBIN CHAPPLE: They just wanted to make sure that the mining sector, the big end of town could get easier access to the minerals in this state by truncating some of the legitimate processes that exist.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The Minister for Mines rejects the allegation. He says the industry working group has streamlined an approval process that's become complex and costly for potential investors.

NORMAN MOORE: The way in which they go about doing their approvals we want to make sure it's rigorous, we want to make sure it's the best practice environmental and safety rules that you can put in place. But at the same time we recognise that timeliness is very, very important, and that's mainly where the reform's taken place.

MATTHEW CARNEY: To exploit the massive reserves of gas in the Canning Super Basin, the vast wilderness of the Kimberley will be studded with hundreds of wells, and many of them will have to be fracked - which means chemicals are injected deep underground to release the gas from its tight sand or shale formations. Buru Energy is one of the first companies to frack for gas in the Kimberley at this site, Yulleroo, about 100 kilometres of Broome.

ERIC STREITBERG: It was a relatively low-key operation to try and understand the rock properties. We were fully transparent about what we were doing, including all the chemicals that we used, and we've had a very diligent monitoring program going on post the frack and have seen absolutely no environmental affects.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith is a consultant for NICNAS, the industrial regulator for chemicals, and it's studied Buru's environment management plan for fracking at Yulleroo.

MARIANN LLOYD-SMITH, NATIONAL TOXICS NETWORK: The group of chemicals Buru Energy are using in their hydraulic fracturing are serious, toxic and hazardous chemicals. None have been assessed for this purpose, yet, for example, some of them list chemicals that can cause birth defects in animals; there are a number there that are central nervous system disorder chemicals.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Buru insists the chemicals used, like ethylene glycol, are safe.

ERIC STREITBERG: We've completely complied with all the regulations in relation to chemical use. The concentrations these chemicals are used in are very low indeed and they're injected three kilometres under the ground. So we feel very comfortable that both the way the chemicals are used and that the regulatory regime that we use them in mean there are no environmental effects.

MATTHEW CARNEY: But Dr Lloyd-Smith says Buru's environmental management plan for fracking is illegal. She says the plan contains material safety data sheets used to set out the risks for chemicals which are out of date, have no Australian contacts and are incomplete. Dr Lloyd-Smith says the document does not conform to the Occupational Safety and Health Act for WA or the national code for material safety data sheets.

MARIANN LLOYD-SMITH: And what's most concerning, I think, is there are chemicals that don't give the full details of the contents. So, while we might get a description, we don't actually get what the chemicals are. And just to explain that, a group that they talk about, which are fluorocarbon surfactants, we know are incredibly persistent. They bioaccumulate. They're found in the blood of people and children. They biomagnify up the food chain.

MATTHEW CARNEY: In response Buru says they use the material safety data sheets that were the industry standard and were approved by the Department of Mines and Petroleum.

Patrick Dodson is a traditional owner of the Yawuru land where the fracking took place. He says while Buru have consulted him at every stage, they haven't disclosed the exact nature of the chemicals used.

PATRICK DODSON, TRADITIONAL OWNER, YAWURU: We want to be satisfied about what it is they're doing and what the likely effects of this will be, not only us but on the environment, you know, on ... particularly on the water table, the they deplete the water table, this is a desert region, it could have huge consequences, and if it destroys the habitat for the ... and destroys the bioregions we will be very ... we want to know about all of this in advance.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Another indigenous leader of the Kimberley, Wayne Bergmann, believes Indigenous rights will be trampled in the rush to riches.

WAYNE BERGMANN: As traditional owners or concerned citizens we're not being provided with the level of information, projects aren't being scrutinised properly. There should be a moratorium on any further drilling in the Canning Basin until there are clear rules and guidelines in place so that we can be assured that world's best practice is being carried out.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Wayne Bergmann has the support from some senior law men of the Kimberley, and they're planning a campaign to resist the resource companies.

JOHN WATSON, TRADITIONAL OWNER, NYIKINA MANGALA: Water is very important for us otherwise we wouldn't be living, you know. I mean we've got a story to this country we're trying to protect.

WAYNE BERGMANN: Through the Kimberley Land Council we're calling a large bush meeting of the five or six traditional owner groups that are predominantly impacted by this. We're going to all stand together and talk up with one voice to ensure these companies don't steamroll us.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The Kimberley may turn out to be the nation's next major environmental battle ground, and James Price Point its first conflict.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Broome's precious hidden water

Ben Collins, ABC

11 October, 2012 11:19AM AWST

The northern tourist town has a hidden lake without which Broome would struggle to survive.

Broome may seem to be something of a miracle: a lush oasis surviving between the desert and the ocean. With the Water Corporation expanding Broome's water infrastructure, it highlights the elusiveness of how this town by the bay, with no lakes or rivers, survives in the hot and harsh climate of North Western Australia.

The secret is under the ground. The Broome sandstone outcrops along the coastline and is famously imprinted by the feet of the biggest dinosaurs known to have walked the Earth. But it's where this ubiquitous layer of rock is hidden below the pindan scrub away from the coast that it serves a much more utilitarian service. Being porous and open to soaking downpours, the Broome sandstone acts like a massive underground rain tank. Each year, five gigalitres (that's 5,000,000,000 litres!) are pumped out of bores sunk into the Broome aquifer to water the gardens, run the showers, fill the pools, quench industry; and people even drink a tiny amount.

An unconfined aquifer is like a secret lake. There's a vast water body out there that grows with the rain and falls when we take from it. Hidden from view, it can be a bit harder to get a feel for this impressive water body. But like any surface water, Broome's little know water source is able to be polluted. A 2001 Water and River's Commission report describes Broome's water supply as vulnerable to industrial contamination. Fuel from tanks and other industrial chemicals can make their way into the water if there is a leak or spill at the surface. The report identifies plans to eventually move the town's airport to a site partially within the existing water reserve as "a potential source of significant groundwater contamination...".

Drilling through the relatively shallow Broome aquifer into deeper confined reservoirs of saltwater or oil also poses a contamination risk. The level of this risk is one of the major contentious points of the international fracking issue.

The Broome aquifer makes the town of Broome possible. Large amounts of clean drinking water in a region that receives an average of just 600 millimetres a year is almost miraculous. That it naturally contains some of the dissolved fluoride needed to keep local teeth shining is nothing short of extraordinary. But there are limits to this font of life.

The Water Corporation have begun works to increase Broome's water supply. Three new bores will be added to the bore field, and new water storage and pipelines are underway to keep water flowing to the ever-growing town. The Department of Water estimates that the Broome bore field could provide up to 10.6 gigalitres without destabilising the saline interface. This is where the fresh water held in the Broome sandstone under land meets the salt water within Broome sandstone under the sea. The risk is that if you take too much freshwater out of the aquifer, then the saltwater will be drawn under the land.

Controversy around the oil and gas industry in the Broome area has driven a focus on the amount of water used by industry. Woodside Petroleum have been investigating using the Broome aquifer as a water source for construction of a gas processing precinct they are considering building 60 kilometres north of Broome. During construction, up to 6 million litres will be used every day. Woodside says that approval to take this water from the Broome aquifer will only be granted by the Department of Water if it is deemed sustainable. The company says a temporary desalination plant will be used if they can't use the aquifer.

During operation of the proposed facility, 5 million litres of water will be needed each day or 1.8 gigalitres each year. This is more than all the water currently used by industry in Broome. A Woodside factsheet on the issues says "It is anticipated that operational water requirements will be met by a permanent desalination facility, powered by electricity generated from natural gas and use water drawn from the ocean."

Concerned residents have also asked questions about the supply of water to the resources industry via the Port of Broome. In 2010 water was barged out of Broome to supply the resources industries on Barrow Island. A desalination plant now supplies this need. But included in the Water Corporation's current Broome upgrades is the replacement of the main pipeline supplying the Broome port.

The CEO of the Broome Port Authority, Captain Vic Justice acknowledges that there is expected to be increased demand for water "...over the next few years in line with offshore resource industry development."

But there's a long way to go before the water supplied to industry via the Broome port is a big part of the overall use. Of the five gigalitres currently used in Broome, 1.3 gigalitres of this is by industry and commercial consumption. Of these 1.3 gigalitres, the Broome Port Authority reports that the most they've provided to industry since 2008 is 58 megalitres in 2010/11. That is under four percent of the water used by industry in Broome.

Even when Broome grows to the point that it uses the full 10.6 gigalitres calculated to be the sustainable extractable volume from the current bore field, predicted to happen around 2035, it's not the limit of the entire aquifer. While the Water Corporation encourages conservative water use as there is a cost to providing water and the associated energy consumption, there is potential to open new bore fields further north. It would seem that if Broome can avoid damaging its aquifer, water won't be the limiting factor in the size of the town blessed with an oasis in the hot dry north.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Kimberley Dinosaurs


In the far north of Western Australia, the Kimberley is a region where science has much to learn. The wildlife is abundant and diverse. The landscape is wild and unpolluted. And here on the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome, things get really exciting. Only in recent years has its importance as a highway and nursery for humpback whales been recognised. But there's more.

Mark Horstman
What's unique about this coastline is that the largest animals on Earth today are swimming past the footprints of the largest animals ever to have walked the planet.

Written in this sandstone is a dinosaur story from deep time.

Dr Steve Salisbury
There's nowhere else in the world you can come and wander along these beautiful beaches, and come across some of the most important dinosaur tracks anywhere on the planet.

Louise Middleton
It's literally years of study that people need to be here, because we're finding new stuff every day, all over the place, different things. It's a wonderland.

Uniquely, the dinosaur tracks here are interwoven with Aboriginal songlines and creation stories.

Richard Hunter
Well, the footprints are like our ancestors, yeah? They were the first... the first living thing in this country.

But just as science begins to appreciate the full significance of the trackways, their security is threatened by a massive industrial development. For the time on television, in a Catalyst exclusive, you're about to see dinosaur fossils that have never been revealed before. They're found in rocky platforms along the pristine beaches north of Broome.

Mark Horstman
All this is the Broome Sandstone. It runs for 200km along this coastline, up to 280m thick. Where it's exposed between the low tide and the high tide, you find this incredible array of dinosaur footprints, wherever you look. Without seeing it with my own eyes, I would never have believed that this is possible.

130 million years ago it was much more crowded here.

Dr Steve Salisbury
This particular area, the Broome Sandstone, it's the only look we get at Australia's dinosaur fauna during this part of the early Cretaceous. We have no other sites in the continent of this age.

Maybe something there, and then it becomes a lot clearer.

Palaeontologist Steve Salisbury is exploring an extinct ecosystem as we walk through a landscape frozen in time.

Dr Steve Salisbury
Most of the track sites that we see probably only represent, you know, between a few days and a couple of weeks, 130 million years ago, so they really do provide a fantastic snapshot.

At the time this was a vast river plain of muddy swamps and sandbars. Trampling through here were enormous herbivores known as 'sauropods', similar to Brachiosaurus or Diplodocus.

Mark Horstman
There are very few places in the world - and nowhere else in Australia - where I can sit in the footstep of a giant dinosaur. This is one of them, and so is that and that and that and that.

Dr Steve Salisbury
Here, what we get with the tracks is direct evidence of where the dinosaurs were, how many of them there were, and what they were doing, and that's stuff that we often can't get from fossil bones.

So far, Steve and his team have recorded the track types of more than 16 different dinosaurs. The most abundant animals in the track sites are sauropods. They shared these habitats with a diverse number of ornithopods, along with various thyreophorans or armoured dinosaurs. Least common are the carnivorous theropods. The palaeontologists rely on the local knowledge of Louise Middleton. She's explored the tracks with the Aboriginal community for nearly 30 years.

Louise Middleton
Finding Steve and working with the Queensland University has been fantastic for us, and also the fact that the Goolarabooloo people have trusted Steve to undertake this work and to hold certain knowledge that's really not shared with uninitiated men usually.

Dr Steve Salisbury
See, I reckon that's a trackway, just that one, and this is a second one.

Louise Middleton
Yeah, but this one's going in a different direction, mate.

For the past year they've been measuring the stride, pace and angle of the footprints to identify the animals that made them, even whether they were adults or juveniles. The grain of the sandstone is examined in fine detail to work out the habitat it came from. The locations of thousands of tracks are logged and photographed, some as stereo images to make three-dimensional animations. Real 3-D models are made too, using silicone casts. This one is a 10m-long carnivorous theropod, the only track of its type on this coast and perhaps Australia.

Dr Steve Salisbury
Silicone that we can use now sets really quickly - I mean we couldn't have done this ten years ago - and it's ideal for this sort of setting where we've gotta race against the tide.

Mark Horstman

Mark Horstman
You've gotta be quick to study the fossils here. This tide is racing. And this was dry a few minutes ago. The tidal range is up to 10m, and the fossils are only visible at the lowest of low tides, so that's for a few hours for a few days for a few months every year.

The tidal currents and storm surges constantly cover and uncover trackways with sand. Today Steve's team gets to see one for the first time.

Mark Horstman
Oh, yeah.

Dr Steve Salisbury
So, it's really nice. So this is one of the big ornithopod tracks. You can see three toe impressions and one toe pad there, central one here and then this is the second digit coming down into a big, fleshy heel pad. It's a big animal. That's, like... 8m to 9m long, even bigger. That's incredible. It's covered in big sauropod tracks and a number of different types of ornithopod tracks. There's some really clear trackways just over there of potentially a new type of dinosaur.

Dr Steve Salisbury

But their excitement is tempered by where we are - within the proposed footprint of one of the world's largest gas factories.

Dr Steve Salisbury
We'd probably be underneath the breakwater. I mean, the port is right there, so this would go, we would lose it.

The Woodside proposal involves piping gas from deep offshore wells to an onshore processing plant and export terminal, and dredging a port for LNG tankers right here on this stretch of coast.

Mark Horstman
Behind me is James Price Point, the proposed location for Woodside's gas hub, its refinery and its harbour. To give you some sense of the scale of the whole project, the breakwaters that they plan to build to protect the harbour to load the gas, extend 3km out to sea, way past where we are now.

It begs the question - where would the rock to build these massive seawalls come from? In a written statement to Catalyst, Woodside said their port construction would avoid the dinosaur footprints, but...

If footprints, or other fossiles, are discovered during construction, Woodside will identify how the footprints will be avoided, salvaged or scientifically documented.

Dr Steve Salisbury
I don't think we should be making the types of really important decisions about the future of this area that are currently being made by government and industry, and without really knowing what we've got. I mean, it's crazy.

Many agree, and attempts to start construction are being staunchly opposed.

Woodside has no Section 18 to destroy this country.

Traditional owners standing in their own country are issued 'move on' notices by the police. For Goolarabooloo law boss Richard Hunter and his countrymen, the fight is about much more than fossils - it's about cultural survival.

Richard Hunter
You know, we have a songline... We're talking about culture - once they break the songline, well, then there's... We have nothing.

Louise Middleton
Breaking that songline, it's like someone going into the Vatican and smashing the chalices or vandalising the altar - that's the significance and the strength of these dinosaur footprints. They're the creation beings, and to interrupt or destroy that is spitting in your soul.

Every hour spent searching between the tides brings important discoveries, all in the area proposed for the gas development.

Dr Steve Salisbury

170, yeah.

(Both chuckle)

It's gigantic.

Mark Horstman
What have you found?

Dr Steve Salisbury
Probably one of the biggest dinosaur tracks in the world. That enormous impression there is a handprint of a sauropod. Where there's a hand, nearby there's gotta be a foot, and look out...

Mark Horstman
Oh, hang on.

Dr Steve Salisbury
You're treading in it there. That huge big depression is a footprint.

Mark Horstman
That's incredible.

Dr Steve Salisbury
So, it's about...

Currently, the record size for a sauropod foot is 1.5m.

Dr Steve Salisbury
And that footprint's about 1.7m long, yeah, give or take a bit 'cause it's eroded. But this is an enormous animal.

An animal with feet the size of truck tyres would be 7m or 8m high at the hip and at least 35m long.

Dr Steve Salisbury
Think if there's a leg attached to this foot, going up. These were truly gigantic.

Mark Horstman
Yeah. Fantastic.

If tracks of the world's biggest sauropods are impressive then how about rock-solid evidence of an Australian stegosaur?

Dr Steve Salisbury
It's got four stubby little fingers on the hand and then quite a fat three-toed foot, and that combination is really characteristic of stegosaurs. We walk around these rocks now. It's a bit slippery and we go for slides and stuff. He has too. So, you can see here's his left foot, right foot, and then as he's come into this one with his left foot, he's gone for a bit of a... slip down there. It looks like there's a double step - he's kind of slid for a bit and then had to gain his grip, and got to the bottom there and probably quite relieved that he's made it... (Chuckles) ...and then continued up that way.

This find is of global importance. Without tracks like these, we would never know that stegosaurs once existed here.

Louise Middleton
When I found it I realised instantly the significance of it, and I just literally fell on my knees and cried, because I felt that if we can't save James Price Point with these tracks then we'll never save anything.

Steve believes the entire 200km of dinosaur coast is worthy of protection as World Heritage.

Dr Steve Salisbury
It should be conserved in its entirety. There's a whole scientific story that we're only just beginning to understand that requires knowledge of all the track sites together and linking all of them to try to understand the overall context of everything. I mean, you can do dinosaur ecology here.
Topics: Environment, Fossils, Geology

Reporter: Mark Horstman
Producer: Mark Horstman
Researcher: Mark Horstman
Camera: Greg Heap
Second Camera: Richard Costin

Sound: Adam Toole

Editor: Wayne Love
Kate Deegan


Dr Steve Salisbury
University of Queensland

Louise Middleton
Dinosaur tracker, Broome

Richard Hunter
Traditional custodian, Goolarabooloo


Dr Steve Salisbury’s Vertebrate Palaeontology & Biomechanics Lab, Uni of Qld

Tony Thulborn (PLoS, 2012): Impact of Sauropod Dinosaurs on Lagoonal Substrates in the Broome Sandstone (Lower Cretaceous), Western Australia

Tony Thulborn on Radio National’s The Science Show

Uncertainty grows around Kimberley coast gas hub (7.30, ABC)

Report and recommendations of the WA Environmental Protection Authority – Browse Liquefied Gas Precinct, July 2012 (pdf)

WA Department of State Development – summary of measures to protect dinosaur fossils (pdf)

WA Dept of State Development: Palaeontology Survey of the Broome Sandstone - Browse LNG Precinct Report (pdf)

Woodside Browse LNG project