Why would anyone want to build a liquid natural gas processing plant in a region that houses the world’s largest humpback whale nursery?
Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority put industrial interests before the whales and other wildlife when, back in July 2012, it gave approval to Woodside Petroleum to build such a plant at James Price Point. As of April 12, the company has done an about-face and said it is dropping plans for the $4.5 billion project that would have created one of the biggest industrial complexes on the planet and led to drilling and dredging some six kilometers out to sea.
The Kimberley coast is home to a “rare abundance” of wildlife, of green, flat back, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles; several species of whales and dolphins and fish, including manta rays and sharks, says the Environment New Service (ENS). Dugongs (large marine mammals related to manatees), plankton, sea-grass, coral and migratory birds also call the region home. More than 10,000 humpbacks gather on the Kimberley coast every year to calve while blue whales, the world’s largest animals, pass through its waters to points further north to give birth.
After Woodside Petroleum was allowed to go ahead with its plans, representatives of the Goolarabooloo Aboriginal people stepped in. Noting that “our Sea Country … is the home of the Humpback whale,” they contacted the nonprofit organization Sea Shepherd, which has successfully driven Japanese whaling ships from Australian waters. Sea Shepherd undertook “operation Kimberley Miinimbi” (the Goolarabooloo name for humpback whale) and worked to bring the creation of Woodside Petroleum’s plant to public attention with support from the Australian Greens and a former Greens Senator, Bob Brown. At least 700 people participated in a Sydney demonstration against the project and contacted local and federal officials, says ENS.
Woodside Petroleum is claiming that “commercial” interests — i.e., a lack of sufficient financial returns — are behind its pulling out of the project. Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett contends that the shelving of the industrial plant is a “tragedy and a missed opportunity” as it would have meant thousands of jobs (to construct the plant and then operate it), as well as a $1.5 billion benefits package in compensation to the Goolarabooloo for native title to James Price Point.
The plant’s profits would have also come with clear losses in the form of noise pollution, habitat destruction and boat strikes to whales. Plus, allowing gas factories to be built on the Kimberley coast would have opened the region as a whole to further industrial development, including coal and uranium mining operations.
Sea Shepherd Australia Director Jeff Hansen underscored the importance of winning such a “David and Goliath struggle”: “This victory shows that no matter what the odds, no matter what the risks, no matter how well equipped, funded and government backed your opponents are, you must never give in, must never surrender, you must fight for what is right, because the one thing that is worth fighting for on our beautiful planet, is life.”
Sea Shepherd and the Goolarabooloo are now seeking to have the Kimberley coast assessed for protection under UNESCO’s World Heritage treaty. It’s a new effort that more than a few of us will be more than glad to join the fight for.
A special thanks to Care2 members who helped to save the Kimberley and humpback whales!
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Photo by jwbenwell/Flickr