Updated: March 16, 2011
James Price Point gas hub FAQs - your questions answered
The Kimberley region in northern Western Australia is a globally significant natural and cultural landscape, home to rare and endangered wildlife and a marine wonderland of unrivalled beauty and diversity. The region can only be compared to places like the Amazon, Great Barrier Reef, or the Antarctic in terms of majesty and scale of relatively pristine and healthy functioning natural landscapes.
The Browse basin is a large undersea area off the Kimberley coast contains significant reserves of gas and some oil. A number of companies hold leases over this region, and are now looking to extract the fossil fuel resource.
With so much interest from companies wanting to process the Kimberley’s huge gas reserves – the Government set up a process to find one location in an attempt to minimise the impacts.
A Government taskforce looked at 40 potential sites along the Kimberley coast but it paid only lip service to assessing sites outside the Kimberley despite the fact the Government had committed to doing so.
Then the State Government changed; Premier Colin Barnett was elected, and the whole process was abandoned. Premier Barnett quickly moved to make a unilateral decision that James Price Point, north of Broome was the best site.
The multi-national oil and gas company Woodside Ltd is strongly supporting the JPP option. However, the company’s Browse LNG joint venture partners - Shell, Chevron, BP and BHP - are much less gung ho, preferring to process the gas at existing LNG plants far to the south in the Pilbara region.
These companies have however been dragged into an initial investment in the JPP site in response to an ultimatum set by Federal Mining and Resources Minister Ferguson who is also desperate for the LNG plant to be in the Kimberley.
A major industrial complex on the Kimberley coast would be environmentally destructive; compromise the sustainable economic future of the Kimberley (tourism, well managed fisheries etc.) and would act as a ‘thin edge of the wedge’ to trigger many other damaging developments in the Kimberley such as strip mining for bauxite and alumina refineries, and polluting fertiliser or ammonia plants.
We can protect the environment and create jobs through investment in sustainable industries such as ecotourism and improved land management which are not environmentally destructive.
Recent research mapping the world’s oceans placed the Kimberley alongside Antarctica as one of the world’s least impacted marine environments. It is clearly comparable to the Great Barrier Reef in conservation significance and value.
The Kimberley’s clean seas, innumerable islands, coral reefs, mangroves, bays and estuaries are home to an astonishing variety of wildlife including Humpback whales and Dugong, five species of turtles, crocodiles, rare Snubfin dolphins and a coral reef network of global significance. The Kimberley coast also has outstanding cultural values for the region’s many Indigenous peoples.
The proposed gas plant at James Price Point is the main part of the jigsaw puzzle that would turn the Kimberley into a mining and industrial region.
In 2005 the WA Department of Industry and Resources published a report called ‘Developing the West Kimberley’s Resources’. This report outlined a future for the Kimberley based on huge resources projects and the consequent destruction of the environment. Such a future was dependent on a source of energy coming ashore – near Broome or Derby.
The proposed development is not a small facility, but is part of a large-scale industrial project. Here is just a sample of what it proposed:
- 4 gas pipelines coming ashore at James Price Point
- 4 oil pipelines coming ashore at James Price Point
- 4 export pipelines (2 with monoethylene glycol—anti-freeze— going to Scott Reef, 2 with carbon dioxide if Woodside decides it wants to ‘geo-sequester’ it)
- 8 huge LNG tanks, 4 LPG storage tanks, 4 oil tanks
- Construction camp for up to 8000 workers
- 1,000 permanent personnel
- 2700 tanker movements per year
- The WA State Government, as the proponent of the proposed gas plant, can pull out of the Kimberley.
- Woodside, Shell, Chevron, BHP Billiton and/or BP can decide to process the gas in a more environmentally appropriate location
- Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, has the power to stop the proposal going ahead on environmental grounds under the approvals provisions of the EPBC Act.
Environmental impacts associated with this proposed development include:
- Clearing of 2400 hectares (24 square kilometres) of Pindan Woodlands and extremely rare Monsoon Vine Thicket plant communities could be affected.
- Dredging is the process of digging a channel and turning basin to allow access for the LNG tankers and other boats. It is a very ecologically damaging process that releases large loads of sediment, and under plans released by the Government up to 21 million tonnes would be dredged.
- Sediment: The release of sediment into the marine environment causes impacts on light-dependant organisms such as corals and sea grass by smothering the organisms and cutting off the light required for photosynthesis. Suspended sediments impact on filter feeding organisms such as oysters and sponges by clogging their feeding mechanisms, essentially starving the animals. Other organisms such as fish are impacted by the clogging of their gills.
- Humpback Whales: The largest Humpback whale nursery on Earth lies between Broome and Camden Sound on the Kimberley coast. The Kimberley coast is crucial habitat for the Humpback whale, a protected species in Australia. The Kimberley population of whales is internationally significant.
- Fish: James Price Point has been identified as a fish aggregation area, though scientific information is limited. It is likely that future studies will identify fish breeding sites and the dredging and blasting of coral reefs will destroy habitat.
- Turtles: Five marine turtle species, including Australia’s own Flatback turtle, are found in the Kimberley. Studies have identified the James Price point region as an important feeding area for turtles and nesting has been recorded in the area, though survey effort has been insufficient to date to have a clear idea of the significance of the area as a nesting beach. It is known from elsewhere that light pollution and other impacts from this sort of development can impact on turtle hatchling survival.
- Corals: A coral reef province of global significance extends along the Kimberley coast. The James Price Point (although not a typical coral reef) contains a diversity of coral habitats; from hard corals on rocky rubble inshore to soft corals, gorgonian fans & sea whips in softer sediment offshore.
- Snubfin dolphins: are Australia’s unique dolphin species! Found nowhere else in the world this species has been recently discovered by science and the Kimberley is crucial habitat. The latest research has identified that Snubfin families appear to spend much of their lives in very small territories close to shore. This means Snubfin populations can be heavily impacted by habitat destruction and unsustainable development.
- Reef blasting: the diverse coral and other communities are threatened by the extensive blasting that would be required for port and channel construction.
- Breakwater: the breakwater proposed for the area could be as large as 7km long. Such a large structure would interrupt and change the local current flows, and damage the local ecosystem during construction with unpredictable impacts.
- Seismic pollution (e.g. blasting and ship noise) - studies have implicated seismic pollution in changing migratory and other behaviour and whale stranding events.
- Climate change: Greenhouse gas emissions would skyrocket, rendering the achievement of WA and Australia greenhouse gas reduction targets virtually impossible. Conservative estimates of just the initial project indicate that 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gases would be emitted every year – equivalent to 3 million cars (20% of WA’s total).
- Air pollution: Toxic air pollution from the gas hub would release gasses from flare towers and other operations including poisonous nitrogen and sulfur compounds (‘Nox’ and ‘Sox’) known to have negative impacts of human and wildlife health.
- Sea pollution: Continuous pollution and degradation of the marine environment from drilling, dredging, shipping, and pipelines being laid along the ocean floor.
- Disasters: Shipping and the potential for oil spills - along with this proposed development would come the construction of huge oil and gas rigs and undersea pipelines and a massive increase in shipping. As we saw recently with the Gulf of Mexico and Montara (West Atlas) oil spill off the Kimberley coast, accidents do happen. This region is just too ecologically significant, too special to be put at unnecessary risk.
- Water: A huge amount of fresh water would be required for this project. This will come from groundwater or via desalination. The use of groundwater is likely to have negative impacts on the waterholes and vegetation of the region. Desalination is an energy (greenhouse) intensive process that also releases highly saline water and chemicals into the marine environment.
- Scott Reef: Scott Reef is in danger, with Woodside planning to put the rig that will pump oil and gas to James Price Point on top of the environmentally important and beautiful Scott Reef.
The James Price Point area is a popular tourism and recreational fishing destination used by locals and tourists. A large gas hub will spread pollution over a large area impacting on health, spoiling the outlook impact negatively on tourism in the region, including numerous sustainable Indigenous tourism ventures on the Dampier peninsula.
There are numerous registered Aboriginal heritage sites in the vicinity of James Price Point (Walmadan) including burial and mythological sites. The area is part of an Indigenous song-cycle, a continuous dreaming track that incorporates the Lurujarri Heritage Trail running from Cape Leveque to south of Broome.
The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) is the native title representative body representing Traditional Owners in native title and development negotiations. The WA Premier announced on 15 April 2009 the signing of an 'in principle' agreement between the State and Federal Governments and Kimberley Land Council regarding the proposed LNG industrial site at James Price Point.
The KLC clearly stated that the agreement merely paves the way for cultural and environmental studies to be undertaken before any final agreement on the site may be given by Traditional Owners at the end of 2010.
Despite these agreements, Premier Barnett has started compulsory acquisition proceedings to force the gas hub to go ahead without Indigenous consent.
Over 200 (estimated to be half) of the Indigenous Traditional Owners for Walmadan do not agree with the LNG proposal and have signed a declaration stating that:
- Extract from ‘Walmadany Goolararbooloo – Jabirr Jabirr Country Declaration’, Sunday 22nd November 2009
The project does not have environmental approval. The proposed site will still need to undergo environmental assessment as required by the WA Environment Protection (EP) Act and Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act before any development can go ahead.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has the power to decide the project should not proceed on environment grounds.
Traditional Owners are undertaking their own assessments and have not signed an Indigenous Land Use Agreement.
There are 3 main alternatives to the destruction of the Kimberley coast:
1. Leave the gas in the ground (seabed) – In a world increasingly aware of the realities of climate change and human-induced global warning, the argument can be made that new fossil fuel extraction is not required and money would be better invested in adopting renewable energy technologies – and creating thousands of jobs in the process.
2. Process the gas in the Pilbara – The Pilbara region already has the established industrial facilities that would suit this kind of development: industrial-zoned land, existing roads and power supply, and workers facilities are already in place.
Additionally the large number of LNG processing facilities already operating or planned for the Pilbara (to the South of the Kimberley) mean that skilled labour shortages are predicted and LNG oversupply may become an issue. Many companies with a stake in Browse gas have expressed interest in ‘back-filling’ existing Pilbara facilities with Browse gas as other closer sources of gas dwindle over coming years.
3. Process the gas using floating LNG technology – The floating LNG processing technology is in its infancy, but Shell has already announced this is the preferred processing option for it’s wholly owned Browse gas reserves. Woodside too has said it is looking at floating LNG as an option for its massive Sunrise project near East Timor.
Despite decades of government promises, the Kimberley region does not have any comprehensive conservation plan in place, although the Federal government is currently assessing the region for its natural heritage values.
The Wilderness Society along with other environmental groups has made a clear and detailed case for such a plan to be developed and implemented - an 'alternative vision' for the Kimberley.
The region already faces a number of threats that need to be addressed, including frequent large wildfires and feral animals. A major industrial complex on the Kimberley coast would introduce more environmental threats, compromise the sustainable economic future of the region (e.g. tourism, well managed fisheries etc.) and act as a trigger for more damaging industrial developments to follow.
Crucially, governments must not be allowed to get away with chronic under-funding of the Kimberley (environment and communities) by tying funding to the go-ahead for major destructive industrial projects. The need for this funding has been recognised but ignored for years by government.
Such a unique region does not need the kind of industrialisation that has transformed places like the Pilbara into non-stop natural resource factories - at enormous cost to its environment and Indigenous communities.
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For more information, please contact:
The Wilderness Society WA Inc
City West Lotteries House
2 Delhi St
West Perth, WA, 6005
Phone: 08 9420 7255