Reading the West yesterday it was hard not to see the irony in the Government’s environment department and a major corporation lining up to paint the relocation of endangered animals off Barrow Island into other sites around the state as a good news story.
In reality they were moving hundreds of endangered animals out of the way for a massive industrial facility, a giant factory, on a Nature Reserve. It was phase one in a massive program of environmental destruction that will culminate in a mind boggling dredging program – Australia’s biggest ever – through near pristine coral reef.
They need to be moved because there is a very real risk that the project could threaten the future of these animals on Barrow Island.
It is true, as the proponent claims, that the management of Barrow Island has been comparitively superior to the underfunded management of other nearby islands by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) that has allowed cats and rats to destroy remnant populations of native animals. The oil field status of the island has meant that recreational vessels have been kept away and on this large island, described as Natures Ark, species that have become extinct elsewhere due to habitat destruction and predation/competition by introduced species have been able to survive.
But it is a bit rich for the company to then claim that because of this history a massive industrial facility with components being manufactured all over Asia is going to be good for the environment.
According to the Environmental Protection Authority, who in some of the most damning reports they have ever written, recommended against the project on Barrow Island at every stage of the proposal, the major environmental impacts of the project include:
• WA’s largest ever marine dredging project with unacceptable consequences for the important marine environment surrounding the island;
• Access to an A-Class nature reserve that is important to the survival of a number of species of native mammals;
• High probability of a serious quarantine breach that will put at risk the survival of native speacis. There is a history of uncontained quarantine breaches by the proponent on Barrow Island;
• High potential for significant impact on an important population of an endangered species, the flatback marine turtle;
• High potential for extinction of endemic invertebrate fauna;
• massive amounts of greenhouse gas.
The other argument that the island is the only place that they can geosequester the massive amount of CO2 in the Gorgon gas has also been widely questioned. Even if it was true, a short CO2 pipe back from an alternative site at the mainland could have done the same job. However, competitors on the North West Shelf, Woodside, are now looking at sequestering their CO2 into abandoned oil fields as is done in the North Sea. There were always other options.
As Gorgon has developed, fears that the initial approval by the Government would open the doors to more development have already been realised with Gorgon adding an additional gas processing train to the proposal before construction has even begun.
Gorgon will be a big money spinner for WA, no doubt. It will probably restart the mining boom that has been in hibernation since the global financial crisis. But it never had to be on Barrow Island.