New offshore mining leases approved near Ningaloo

Dishwasher Powder, Disinfectant, Radiator CoolantA new offshore exploration permit has been granted near Western Australia’s Ningaloo Marine Park. The recently-listed World Heritage site has also been under threat from increased marine pollution which includes oil spills, fertilisers, chemicals found in non-environmental cleaning products and plastic waste.

The Federal Government has awarded Woodside Petroleum an exploration permit for 480 square kilometres near the prized Ningaloo Marine Park.

The permit area is near the much larger exploration permit approved for Dutch petroleum company Shell by the Government in July. The location of the Shell permit, 50 kilometres west of the marine park, generated heavy criticism from green revolution proponents.

Environmental activists claim exploration activities could impacton the reef and rare marine life, including dugongs, sea turtles and whale sharks, and are not eco-friendly. Industrial liquids including chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides also wash into the coast from inland waterways, polluting the now-Heritage Listed reef.

Woodside Petroleum and partner Mitsui E&P have revealed plans to spend more than $42 million exploring the permit, near its Vincent and Enfield oil operations. This will include drilling operations.

The Conservation Council of WAsaidthe 2011 round of exploration leases – which will be up for approval next year – would increase drilling along the Ningaloo coastline. It claims the permits awarded to Woodside falls within 20km of the Ningaloo Marine Park. Other leases to Woodside and Shell are offshore from the pristine Rowley and Shoals coral reefs.

Council Marine Co-ordinator Tim Nicol has called for an increased buffer between the Ningaloo Reef and mining activities to make offshore exploration more environmentally-friendly. Liquid oil spills remain a critical concern, he said.

“We are calling on the Government to put some balance into the management of our Northwest oceans by creating a marine sanctuary offshore from Ningaloo Reef that will provide a permanent buffer against the impacts of oil drilling and the risk of spills,” Mr Nicol said.

“No one wants to see a Gulf of Mexico or Timor Sea oil spill right off the coast from Ningaloo Reef.

“The waters off our Northwest coast are some of the most unique and pristine tropical marine areas in the world. We need a much more responsible approach to balancing development with protecting this fragile marine environment.”

The Federal Government has committed to increasing regulation of the offshore industry by establishing a petroleum safety watchdog on January 1. Woodside has promised to be vigilant in ensuring non-eco-friendly industrial liquids do not spill into the ocean.

“A two barrier standard applies to all Woodside-operated drilling operations, which ensures there are at least two tested barriers in place at any time to prevent reservoir fluids flowing to the external environment,” a Woodside spokesperson said.

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