Louisiana Oil Spill: Is Australia becoming too comfortable with our own resources boom?

The resource industry provides much of Australia’s wealth. A simple statement that is almost an obligatory disclaimer before saying anything good or bad about Australia’s resources sector, the mining, oil and gas industries.
But most Australian’s are also passionate about out natural environment. It is a conflict that is increasingly resulting in a cringe against being ‘anti-development’. This has been enhanced by decades of very good PR from the mining and oil sectors talking up their green credentials, and down their environmental impacts.
For example, most people don’t know that mining companies don’t fill in the massive pits they make in the ground when they close a mine. They say it is too expensive. Most people who are not in the industry are shocked when they hear this. There are literally thousands of open pits left across the Australian landscape.
Just today another potential oil disaster has struck in the US, off the coast of Louisiana.
It comes on the back of a narrowly avoided disaster from an oil spill from a coal carrying ship that grounded on the Great Barrier Reef. Earlier this year the Montara oil rig failed and spilled oil into the ocean for ten weeks off north west Australia. We forget other oil spills, in WA the Kirki oil tanker in 1991 sank and spilled 17,400 tons of oil into the ocean, and of course the Sanko Harvest fertilizer carrier on the pristine Recherche Archipelago that same year. All Australia’s massive oil spills are summarized at the AMSA website.
And it is not just accidents. The recently commenced Gorgon gas project puts at risk one of Western Australia’s most important wildlife refuges on the Barrow Island Nature Reserve, it will also involve Australia’s largest dredging project though a pristine coral reef. Environmental Agencies recommended strongly against the approval of this project.
Closer to Perth, the Government has repeatedly overruled scientific advice from WA’s environmental watchdog about unacceptable environmental impacts from mining in the banded ironstone formation ranges – despite high level work by Government agencies undertaken to ensure development is balanced with conservation. Any level of potential resource remains a permanent roadblock to conservation.
And of course we keep growing Australia’s largest export earner, the coal export industry, whilst our Prime Minister talks of climate change being the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’.
The debate is being bourne out now again in the Southwest, where the Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is planning to release a new oil exploration lease in an area under consideration for future marine sanctuaries.
Meanwhile, despite our reputation for our excellent National Parks, environmental protection is far behind resources development. Whilst most of our land and much of our ocean is covered in mining and oil tenements, less that 7% of WA’s land mass, and less than 1% of our oceans are protected in secure conservation reserves. This is far below the minimum levels scientists recommend to ensure sustainability of ecosystems and protect many species from extinction.
We don’t need to be anti-development, don’t even need to be greenies, but if more people take the time to find out the information and become ‘pro-balance’ then we will be much better off. We don’t have to develop every possible resource in this country to still be wealthy. In fact, we will be much the poorer if we do.
Being pro-development needn’t mean giving the mining and oil industries access to everything they want. It doesn’t mean ignoring the very real risks that resources development brings into our unique Australian natural environments.

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One thought on “Louisiana Oil Spill: Is Australia becoming too comfortable with our own resources boom?

  1. Pingback: Henry Tax Review, Mining and the Environment: Why Kevin Rudd is on the Right Track « The Happy Squid Blog

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