Kimberley: Gas hub threatens dinosaur tracks

John Butler performs at a protest outside BHP Billiton's Melbourne headquarters, October 5.

The threat facing Western Australia’s Kimberley region received national attention on October 5 when 10,000 people attended a concert for the Kimberley in Melbourne’s Federation Square.

The John Butler Trio and Claire Bowditch performed and Missy Higgins and former Greens leader Bob Brown spoke to the crowd. The concert was organised by The Wilderness Society to raise support for the protection of the iconic area.

The threat comes from a proposed $45 billion liquid natural gas (LNG) processing plant by Australian oil and gas company Woodside, which is seeking to drill for LNG offshore in the nearby Browse Basin.

The gas hub, located at James Price Point near Broome, is opposed by many local Aboriginal groups, as it will be built over ancient cultural sites. There is also concern it will impact endangered species, such as the breeding and migration zones of humpback whales.

ABC Online said on October 4 that a leading palaeontologist has found “amazing” fossils of dinosaur footprints along the Kimberley coastline, which are directly threatened by the development. Dr Steve Salisbury said thousands of tracks from at least 16 types of dinosaurs can be found. "It's a unique glimpse of an ancient ecosystem unmatched anywhere in the world.”

Broome Community No Gas Campaign, a local campaign group opposed to the development, said six scientists accompanied by six Woodside security staff were seen working near the site of these dinosaur prints, without permission from traditional owners — a potential breach of the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

A spokesperson from the group said, “There are grave concerns that Woodside are trying to determine the location of this culturally sensitive site — and may seek to remove or damage this dinosaur trackway of global significance.”

Local campaigners have organised a series of protests to prevent Woodside from beginning work on the development. In response to Woodside applying for access to sand dunes at James Price Point that include culturally important sites such as burial grounds, campaigners blockaded the entrance to Woodside’s office and prevented staff from entering on October 2.

Campaigners are opposed to Woodside working in the dunes, and Woodside cannot do so without permission from traditional owners.

Nik Wevers of the Broome Community No Gas Campaign said: “Today we’re putting Woodside on notice — they must stay out of the dunes or they will face the full force of the Broome community.”

It is not just the Kimberley coast that’s under threat from industrialisation, but the interior as well. A report by ABC’s Lateline on October 23 revealed new information about plans to mine for resources such as iron ore, coal, gas, oil and uranium. About 80% of the Kimberley is already covered in exploration leases.

Peter Tucker from Save the Kimberley told Lateline: “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.”

The Canning Super Basin has been identified as one of the world’s next hot spots for gas reserves. There is the potential to extract 229 trillion cubic feet of gas from it.

Lateline revealed that one company is already extracting gas through fracking, a technique that injects large volumes of chemicals, water and sand underground at high pressure to release the gas.

The company, Buru Energy, say the chemicals it uses are safe, and injecting them three kilometres underground means there will be no environmental impacts.

But Mariann Lloyd-Smith, from the National Toxics Network, told Lateline that: “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.”

In NSW and Queensland, community groups are campaigning against the use of fracking because of the potential to contaminate and disrupt water aquifers.

Traditional owner Patrick Dodson told Lateline: “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 ... particularly on the water table, they deplete the water table, this is a desert region, it could have huge consequences.”

If the campaign to stop the gas hub at James Price Point is successful, there is hope that the campaign can be extended to stop other projects. Tucker told Lateline: “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.”

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