Bid to save Kimberley: Locals, protesters defy Woodside and gov't
A convoy of 30 trucks and cars loaded with drilling equipment and workers from energy company Woodside set out from Broome in northern Western Australia at 2.30am on August 26.
It was heading for James Price Point.
Two protesters locked onto two vehicles when the convoy arrived and another two locked onto a strong point on the road, halting the convoy. The action was the latest drama in a vibrant local campaign against a planned gas hub at James Price Point.
A community blockade at the site has been in place for the past three months.
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Sean Clark is a former National Parks ranger who resigned because he was not free to voice his opinion on the industrial development of the Kimberley.
Clark, who has been protesting at the site for four months, told Green Left Weekly that the development of James Price Point is “just the thin edge of the wedge, with far more damaging developments in the pipeline”.
“This is planned to be the world's second largest gas hub — three times larger than is currently in the Pilbara,” he said.
Clark said he was part of the community blockade because the pristine Kimberley environment “is severely under threat, with numerous endangered plants and animals, on land and sea, in the firing line”.
As well as this, “the cultural values of the traditional owners are being overriden by Woodside and the state government”.
He also said the 3000 fly-in fly-out workers that will be temporarily employed at the gas hub “will put enormous pressure on the social structure of Broome”, which is the nearest major town.
Woodside, along with other joint venture partners, is in the advanced stages of plans to build a major liquefied natural gas processing plant at James Price Point.
Oil and gas exploration is taking place beneath the sea floor just off the Kimberley coast.
If Woodside’s proposal goes ahead, it is likely further proposals will be tendered for other liquid natural gas facilities in the region in the medium-term.
Mining companies have applied for exploration licences in some of Australia’s most spectacular natural scenery in anticipation of the onshore gas processing and distribution at James Price Point going ahead.
Mining companies want to explore areas such as the Horizontal Waterfall, the Buccaneer Archipelago, Montgomery Reef, Mount Trafalgar and Mount Waterloo and the magnificent gorges of the Roe and Moran Rivers.
The Save the Kimberley campaign website says that other large-scale industrial proposals for the Kimberley region appear to be in the advanced planning stages or are moving toward development.
These include the establishment of two bauxite mines in the north Kimberley, an alumina smelter, the establishment of two major port facilities, a 200,000 tonne a year zinc mine at Admiral Bay south of Broome and iron ore and uranium mining.
The plans to industrialise the Kimberley are strongly opposed by most of the local community, who deem it an example of cultural and environmental vandalism.
Woodside is nonetheless drilling offshore and has undertaken surveying in preparation for land clearing and more drilling.
The state government has strongly backed the development. Western Australia Liberal Premier Colin Barnett has defended it, saying “the Pilbara has supported Western Australia for the last 50 years and the Kimberley will support us the next 50 years”.
Barnett threatened compulsory acquisition of the land from traditional owners unless they agreed to the development. Many remain opposed.
This has sparked outrage and accusations of “land theft” from some local Indigenous people, organisations and human rights advocates.
Economic analysts and environment groups have pointed out that there are alternatives. They have suggested that using the already established liquid natural gas processing plants in the Pilbara or building new infrastructure in Darwin would make better economic and environmental sense.
The campaign against the gas hub has included the largest march and rally ever held in Broome. The local community’s protests are ongoing with a camp and blockade at James Price Point.
The protesters have also established an information booth at the highway turnoff to the point.
Police were present in great numbers to try to break the community picket in July. Woodside’s private security has also carried out heavy-handed measures against the protesters.
Critics of the development have pointed out that the proposed liquid natural gas project could destroy recently discovered dinosaur footprints in the Kimberley region.
“The Dampier Peninsula coastline north of Broome is probably one of the most important and most diverse dinosaur track sites in the world with at least 15 types of dinosaur prints recognisable inside the gas hub precinct,” University of Queensland palaeontologist Dr Steven Salisbury told the ABC on August 9.
Salisbury said the full extent and scientific significance of these track sites is only just emerging. Recent finds include some of the biggest sauropod footprints in the world.
However, a Woodside spokesperson said the dinosaur footprints were “near the bottom end of the preservation scale of these ichnofossils” and “the overall impact of the Browse LNG Development on the entire dinosaur track way assemblage of the Broome Sandstone is negligible”.
Five Broome locals returned from Canberra after meeting the environment minister, Tony Burke, in July. Their mission was to put the anti-gas movement at James Price Point on the political agenda. Hundreds of Broome residents met on July 12 to hear a report back from that meeting.
The five said they had told Burke that they are not opposed to gas as such, but were against the placement of the development at James Price Point. They also warned Burke that the community had the numbers and the unity to stop the development.
Burke is considering an application to have the largely untouched wilderness of the Kimberley region heritage-listed. His decision is due by the end of August.
The mining industry is lobbying Burke to delay a decision on a heritage listing because it claims scientific surveys of the wilderness area are incomplete.
However, Burke said if the application for heritage-listing was approved it “is not something that says no development … but something that says any development, if it is to occur, must be mindful of these heritage values”.
[For more details on the campaign visit http://savethekimberley.com .]