Mel Barnes

In a remote part of Western Australia, on the Burrup peninsula near Karratha, is one of the world’s oldest and most important cultural sites. It is the world’s largest collection of rock art, dotted over an area covering 42 adjacent islands, and it is under threat from unchecked industrial development.
A peaceful community blockade set up to stop construction of two coal seam gas (CSG) pilot wells near Newcastle was broken up by riot police August 28. Dart Energy won approval by the state government to drill the wells in Fullerton Cove in June this year. Locals say a more rigorous environmental assessment of the project needs to be done.
The Tasmanian Greens have proposed the “biggest reform in the Tasmanian electricity sector since the dams were built", in its response to an expert panel that reviewed the state’s electricity industry earlier this year. About 80% of the Tasmania’s electricity comes from hydro power, owned by Hydro Tasmania. This is sold to Aurora, the only retail company in the state. Another company, Transend, owns the distribution network. All three are government business enterprises.
Three open cut coalmines have been proposed over the Leard State Forest and adjoining farmland near Boggabri in NSW. Two mines currently operate in the forest, but their proposed expansion and a brand new mine would clear 50% of the forest. The National Parks Association of NSW says the forest is “home to 26 threatened plant and animal species” and is “the single biggest remnant of native vegetation left on the heavily cleared Liverpool Plains”.
Two new mines are being assessed within the Tarkine rainforest in north-west Tasmania. The Tarkine is well known for the public battles to save it from logging, and was given emergency National Heritage listing in 2009. But that status lapsed in December 2010, and with the global price of minerals rising, mining companies began to explore the area. Ten mines have been proposed for the area — nine of them open cut. The first two mines planned will produce tin and iron ore.
Tasmanian logging company Gunns now doubts its $3 billion pulp mill, planned for the Tamar Valley, will ever be built. The company told the Australian Securities Exchange on August 6 that its debts were somewhere between $50 million and $150 million. It said the steep decline in the price of woodchips and the high Australian dollar were to blame for its financial woes. Gunns said this meant the “board has been unable to reach a view” that the pulp mill project could go ahead.
The Sea Shepherd boat the Steve Irwin docked in Broome on August 6 to join community protests against the $30 billion gas hub proposed for James Price Point, in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. Sea Shepherd, a marine conservation organisation, said it undertook the trip “to highlight the significance of the James Price Point marine environment as a habitat and feeding ground for humpback whales, dolphins and turtles”.
University of California professor Richard Muller publicly reversed his climate scepticism when he released the results of a climate study on July 29. The report showed that climate change was occurring and caused by burning fossil fuels. His organisation, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST), concluded that the Earth has warmed 1.5 degrees celsius over the past 250 years. “I was not expecting this,” Muller said. “But as a scientist, I feel it is my duty to let the evidence change my mind.”
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in NSW has fined a coal seam gas (CSG) company $3000 after it twice polluted a creek in the Pilliga forest near Narrabri in NSW by discharging contaminated water. Explaining the fines, the EPA said it “issued two penalty notices with fines of $1500 each to Eastern Star Gas for discharging polluted water containing high levels of salt into Bohena Creek in March and November 2010”.
The pending approval for the liquefied natural gas (LNG) hub at James Price Point in Broome has come under fire after four of the five Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) board members responsible for assessing the project stood aside due to conflicts of interest. Two of the EPA board members hold shares in Woodside Petroleum, the operator of the $35 billion project.
Billionaire mine-owner Clive Palmer has applied for one of his Queensland companies, the Yabulu nickel refinery, to be allowed to dump millions of litres of toxic water into the Great Barrier Reef.
The federal government announced on June 14 that it would create the “world's largest network of marine reserves” in Australia. It will form 33 new marine reserves, adding to the current 27.
Coal and gas developments proposed in Queensland are putting Australia's Great Barrier Reef at risk, says a report by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The report, released on June 1, said there were “a number of developments that, were they to proceed, would provide the basis to consider the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger”.
Bimblebox is an 8000-hectare nature refuge in the Galilee Basin in central-west Queensland. It is an important site of biodiversity and is being used as a site for many long-term research projects in land management. It also lies in the path of what is planned to be Australia’s largest coalmine. Nine huge mines have been proposed for the Galilee Basin. Waratah Coal, owned by billionaire Clive Palmer, has an exploration permit over the entire Bimblebox refuge.
Across NSW, dozens of local groups have organised to campaign against coal seam gas (CSG) mining. After years of using official channels of protest, they have been frustrated by the lack of response from the government and feel that they have no choice but to change tactics. In the Pilliga state forest south of Narrabri, 92 wells have been drilled to explore for CSG. In June last year, 10,000 litres of untreated saline CSG water were leaked into the environment.
Exploration licences for coal seam gas mining (CSG) cover 75% of the land in New South Wales where people live. Residents are worried about the effect CSG mining could have on their land and water, and angry about the lack of consultation by the gas companies.


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