Only a month after Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett announced the government would push for the acquisition of James Price Point for future gas and petroleum projects, Shell Petroleum defended their proposal to build a $12 billion floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant off the Kimberley coast.
This follows Woodside Petroleum’s decision to abort plans to build a $40 billion onshore gas hub after concluding that it was not economically viable. Instead it will use Shell’s technology to develop its own offshore floating LNG plant.
The move means the gas would be processed offshore, against the wishes of the premier who would benefit from royalties an onshore project would create.
This, along with a push for uranium mining and shale gas fracking, has a ubiquitous record of irreversible ecological and cultural destruction. It is an extreme danger for the Kimberley’s pristine marine life and ecology.
This barrage of threats to the area is nothing new, and is highlighted by the erroneous claims that shale gas fracking is sustainable and economically prosperous after a surge in US shale gas fracking.
New fracking legislation to protect Australia’s underground water supply excludes WA. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said this creates a "red carpet welcome to industrialisation of [the Kimberley] ... by an industry with a shocking track-record of environmental damage.”
"The argument that shale and tight gas extraction does not pose risks to water doesn't hold; evidence from the US shows that 6-7% of shale gas wells fail within one year of construction and more than 60% fail after 30 years.
"The WA government is subsidising plans for the growth of a massive shale and tight gas industry in WA, to operate across the Kimberley, mid-west and parts of the south-west in many areas, where water supply and protection are already concerns."
The Greens have come forward as the only parliamentary party to oppose the laws, calling for an amendment that was unanimously turned down.
Conservation groups like Save the Kimberley, Sea Shepherd, and the Wilderness Society have echoed their sentiments, aggressively working to raise awareness and pushing for all of the Kimberley to be recognised under World Heritage protection laws.
Barnett calls this "green tape," telling a business function in Perth on June 28 that it was stifling mining development in the area.
There are proposals to address this “green tape” on a federal level. The Coalition has criticised the Labor government’s lack of “environmental outcomes", because investment in protection doesn’t yield high revenue.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott has promised a one-stop-shop for environmental approvals across local, state and federal levels, which beckons further degradation and a corporate deregulation — an industrial free-for-all.
Of the near 500,000 square kilometres that make up the Kimberley (including 13,000 kilometres of coastline), only 2% is protected by the World Heritage Organisation.
There are few places left on Earth that are untainted by the touch of humans, that boast a marine coast so pristine it can only be compared to the Arctic and Antarctic oceans.
The Kimberley is home to the world’s largest whale nursery, a migration path for 36-47%
of the Humpback population, the world’s longest stretch of dinosaur footprints, and a rich and constant source of new scientific discovery.
Botanists Matt and Russell Barrett are still discovering new species in the Kimberley. Ten never-before-seen plants were found on one expedition. They speculated “hundreds” more were still to be found.
"Their contribution is remarkable and they are showing that the Kimberley is the last great botanical frontier in Australia," says Kingsley Dixon, science director of Kings Park and Botanic Garden in Perth.
The community has been fighting for the Kimberley for more than 20 years, some promoting ecotourism, others working on conservation efforts. Save the Kimberley’s Kevin Blatchford says more protection is needed to ensure the future of the area.
“We need to have appropriate types of development that look after land and culture and its people, and we see that as a huge resource for Australia for many generations for come.
“We see it as a huge economic base for Australia, through tourism and the right type of economic development.”
An independent report by the Allen Consulting Group in 2010 into the economics of marine protected areas found that ecotourism in the Kimberley could have a potential worth of $55 billion dollars.
Not only is the Kimberley an opportunity for economic abundance through ecotourism, it is also a glorious accomplishment of nature, and a place of deep spiritual significance for its Aboriginal owners. Most of all it is a symbol of the powerful symbiosis and unity between people and nature, in the final paradise on Earth.
Without careful protection and cultivation, today’s gleaming sunrise that sprawled over the sea as far as the eye wanders and sunset with an iridescence that seeps into your soul, could be the last place not obstructed by corruption, greed and oil rigs.