By Online parliamentary correspondent Emma Rodgers
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett has given the nod, with conditions, to the construction of the $50 billion Gorgon gas project on Barrow Island off the West Australian coast.
His formal approval of the project was expected after last week’s announcement of a record deal to sell liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the yet-to-be developed gas field to China over the next 20 years.
The Federal Government had been criticised for announcing the $50 billion China deal before Mr Garrett had officially signed off on the project.
But Mr Garrett denies the announcement pressured him into signing off on the deal.
He says an extra 28 conditions have been imposed on the project to ensure that Barrow Island, which is a Class A nature reserve, is adequately protected.
“I take my job as a regulator very seriously,” he said.
“I want to get the best results for the environment I can, consistent with the regulatory regime that I’m required to observe.
“I’ve made sure that the matters of environmental significance that I’m required to consider under the national environmental legislation have both been identified and conditions applied to ensure that there are no adverse impacts.”
The Gorgon project is a joint venture of Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell, and will cost about $50 billion to construct. It is expected to generate about $300 billion worth of gas contracts and 6,000 jobs during construction.
The project will also pump $40 billion worth of revenue into the Federal Government’s coffers.
Concerns had been raised over the project’s impact on several species on Barrow Island, including the flatback turtle.
Mr Garrett says as well as the extra conditions, 20 management plans are also in place.
Several of the conditions imposed on the project are to deal with the potential impact to the flatback turtle.
A monitoring program must be set up and the Minister can order action be taken if the monitoring shows the project is having a detrimental effect on the turtles.
Other plans must also be put in place to manage and monitor other species such as the spectacled hare-wallaby and golden bandicoot.
Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett says the conditions are stringent.
“I don’t believe any project in WA, perhaps in Australia, has the degree of scrutiny and the exacting conditions placed on it that the Gorgon project does,” he said.
The Federal Opposition supports the project’s approval.
But Dr Andrew Burbidge, who is a consultant for Chevron, says the project should not go ahead because it will threaten the island’s biodiversity.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect quarantine system,” he told Radio National earlier today.
“The oil field that the company now manages on the island has caused the introduction of a number of animals already.”
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert has also condemned the project’s approval.
“Just today we’ve heard that Chevron’s own environmental consultant gave them advice to locate the processing plant on shore, as the environmental impact to Barrow Island is too great,” she said.
“This proposal will have unacceptable environmental impacts on the terrestrial and the marine environment.”