Drilling Threat to Great Barrier Reef

The Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Environment and Turtle Island Restoration Network filed a lawsuit last Thursday, challenging a “massive fossil fuel project” set to go up within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. At risk, the groups argue, is the renowned beauty of the Great Barrier Reef and its vibrant marine life, which includes green sea turtles, endangered loggerhead turtles, threatened saltwater crocodiles and dugongs, a species related to the manatee.

“Sea turtles and dugongs are already imperiled due to the fossil fuel frenzy now underway across Australia,” said Teri Shore, program director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “To allow oil companies to industrialize this critical nesting and feeding haven in the Great Barrier Reef will push these vulnerable marine animals ever closer to the brink.”

The Australia Pacific LNG Project, a joint venture between Origin Energy, ConocoPhillips and China PetroChemical Corporation, will utilize polluting hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) methods to drill ten thousand coal-seam gas wells in interior Queensland, while also dredging seagrass beds and increasing tanker traffic across the Great Barrier Reef. In addition, the project’s natural gas facility—projected to cover 740 acres of land and 800 acres of seabed—will “emit over 11 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year at maximum capacity,” the plaintiffs stated. Yet despite its massive proportions, the project has failed to conduct mandatory World Heritage biological assessments and environmental impact surveys and therefore was “illegally” funded with a $3 billion loan in May 2012 by Export-Import Bank, they added.

“The Export-Import Bank has a sad history of funding environmental damage, but a fossil fuel project inside one of the world’s most important marine reserves is a new low,” said Doug Norlen, policy director with Pacific Environment. “Ex-Im Bank should focus on renewable energy and stop worsening the world’s addiction to fossil fuels.”

UNESCO, the organization responsible for overseeing World Heritage Area preservation guidelines, issued a report in June expressing “extreme concern” over the Australia Pacific LNG project’s impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. Though UNESCO has no power to enforce compliance by Australia with its recommendations against new port developments, they warned that the inevitable damage to Australia’s tourism industry will produce “backlash on those politicians who chose to ignore [them].”

“Dirty fossil fuel facilities don’t belong in a world-famous marine sanctuary like the Great Barrier Reef,” said Sarah Uhlemann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This liquefied natural gas project doesn’t meet U.S. standards, and we shouldn’t be subsidizing the world’s fossil fuel dependence or the destruction of a natural wonder like the Great Barrier Reef.”