October 10, 2007 - In the wake of his recent decision to allow timber giant Gunns to build their controversial Pulp Mill in Tasmania, Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull has now given approval to the $20 billion Gorgon gas project in Western Australia. Despite staunch criticism from green groups, Turnbull's decision virtually paves the way for the Gorgon oil conglomerates - Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil to build an LNG plant on Barrow Island, off WA's North West coast.
The island is an A Class nature reserve and environmentalists have argued it should be protected from further development. The WA Carpenter Government recently gave its conditional approval for the project...
Environmental stakeholders say federal approval does not go far enough to protect a fragile island environment exposing it to a massive biosecurity risk - demanding the project should be sited on the mainland, rather than on Barrow island.
Project operator Chevron holds a 50 percent stake in the huge gas field, which is estimated to contain more than 40 trillion cubic feet of gas and has a nominal development life of around 60 years.
Gorgon involves recovering gas from the Gorgon field, Australia's largest known gas resource, near the North West Shelf gas fields. A gas refining and liquid natural gas (LNG) facility will be built on Barrow Island, where Chevron has operated for more than 40 years. The Barrow project is specifically designed around carbon capture and storage from the gas refining process.
Conservation groups have vigorously opposed the project, saying it will threaten endangered species. The WA Environmental Protection Authority also said the project should be blocked to protect the rare flatback turtles, which nest on beaches shared by the proposed plant.
TOXIC LEGACY: Chevron Australia, along with partners ExxonMobil and Shell, says environmental conditions are among the most stringent in the world. Mr Turnbull said the measures built on Chevron's commitment to environmental protection.
However, Chevron's commitment to the environment is currently under question. Chevron is facing an ongoing lawsuit in Ecuador since 2003, which alleges Texaco (now Chevron) dumped more than 68 billion litres of oily wastewater from three decades of drilling. The plaintiffs — 30,000 Amazon Indians and settlers — are seeking $6 billion in damages.
From 1964 to 1992, Texaco drilled for oil in the northern region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, leaving behind 627 open toxic waste pits and other facilities which continue to leak highly toxic waste, affecting more than 30,000 local people.
In the most recent court documents, Chevron faces a massive potential liability for creating levels of toxicity in the rainforest up to thousands of times higher than permitted by Ecuadorian and U.S. law. One soil sample at a Chevron well-site inspected by the Ecuadorian court contained "life-threatening toxins that exceed maximum amounts permitted by U.S. law by 3,250 times."
In 2002, Angola has fined ChevronTexaco Corp $2 million for causing environmental damage. But the company's idea of being green is to launch a $15 million ad campaign touting its greenness while spending a stunning $15 billion buying back its own stock, rather than, say, investing the money in developing new sources of clean energy.
FRAGILE ECOSYSTEM: WA Conservation Council president Chris Tallentire said Barrow Island is a fragile environment which is home to threatened flatback turtles and 21 different species of animals unique to the island. "The government has totally let us down on this one," Mr Tallentire said. He said governments were subsidising the project companies by granting them $60 million to investigate carbon geo-sequestration, to capture and store carbon dioxide produced at the site.
"It's an absolute sham," Mr Tallentire said. "It's totally pathetic, at state and federal levels, the government is subsidising a project which subsequently risks a fragile environment and exposes it to a massive biosecurity risk."
Mr Tallentire said the project should be sited on the mainland, rather than on Barrow island. WWF Australia said the federal government had ignored pleas to locate the project onshore.
"There are no conditions that will ever make Barrow Island, which is one of Australia's oldest and most important nature reserves, an acceptable location for an LNG plant," WWF Australia chief executive Greg Bourne said. "The risks to species found nowhere else in Australia and to the turtles and corals in the surrounding marine environment are simply too great."
WWF says apart from the flatback turtle, other threatened species on Barrow Island include the burrowing bettong, the golden bandicoot and the black-flanked rock wallaby. It is also home to a blind snake, believed to be the only snake in the world that lives entirely underground.
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