13/09/2005 - 22:00

Gorgon looks to local environment

13/09/2005 - 22:00


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The planned visit by the Rainbow Warrior to Fremantle at the weekend did little to stir passions that I could note – having not been in the port city or caught the news – but it did get me thinking about where the environmental debate was heading.

The planned visit by the Rainbow Warrior to Fremantle at the weekend did little to stir passions that I could note – having not been in the port city or caught the news – but it did get me thinking about where the environmental debate was heading.

In my view environmentalism has moved on from the headline-grabbing stunts of Greenpeace to a more grassroots activism much more connected to the community than some fly-in-fly-out protest.

To some degree, Greenpeace and other global groups have done the job they intended; they have raised awareness in many and stimulated local interest.

In democracies such as Australia, this has ultimately influenced government decision-making and led to well-organised local groups.

In many cases, these locals better understand the importance or other-wise of various environmental issues in their area, as well the economic ramifications of their actions.

That can help build checks and balances in the system, as well as highlight local priorities as opposed to global ones.

But localising things doesn’t always result in a more sensible approach. Like many, I have watched with interest the step-by-step approach to the development of the massive Gorgon gas project on Barrow Island.

The initial announcement that it was going ahead came, if I recall rightly, just after the Gallop Government stopped a big tourist development and marina at Ningaloo. One each, you’d say in sporting parlance.

There were muted howls of protest but it was hard to argue Geoff Gallop’s environmental credentials after Ningaloo. Good politics, that.

Now the Gallop Government is in a new term, the Gorgon development proposed for the A-class nature reserve Barrow Island is coming ever closer to reality and the noise from the environmental movement is increasing again.

The latest that I have noted was from the WA Conservation Council, which was critical of the huge number of reports – “wads of paper” in a “package of materials of unprecedented size” – that attempt to justify what “appeared to be a predetermined decision to go on Barrow”.

While we need not go into who exactly has predetermined views or whether reports should be slimmed down to save trees, Gorgon is one of those projects that highlights how the localisation of environmental activism can have its downsides.

Gorgon should be a model for the environmental movement, if those complaining could remove themselves from their myopic viewpoint and take a global perspective.

Firstly, the project is proposing to produce LNG – a relatively clean fuel compared with most alternatives.

The development is being done under the strict provisions of Western Australian and Australian laws by a company largely staffed by local people who, arguably, have a significant interest in looking after the assets of this affluent state – including natural ones.

This is stark contrast to many developments in emerging economies riddled with corruption, weak government and undue foreign influence, and home to workforces fighting to claw themselves out of poverty.

There is also the very strong track record of development on Barrow Island. The current facility, run by WAPET, has an outstanding environmental history on the island since the 1960s.

In fact, many would argue that it has only been the presence of the highly sensitive oil industry – and its massive resources – that have kept the island as pristine as it is. A vigilant staff (to the point of paranoia) is far better for the island’s isolated eco-system and has allowed Barrow to remain a sanctuary where other, less economically important islands, have suffered from less organised human interference.

To my mind the balance of local versus global is definitely tilted in favour of the oil industry in this case.

Chevron, the developer of Gorgon, has much to lose if it makes small mistakes in a place like WA with its transparent processes and active community interest.

So do many workers in the sector who, in my experience as a visitor to Barrow, not only benefit from the high wages and challenging roles offered by this industry but also care how about their stewardship of the island.

Thanks IMF ... I think

THE international monetary fund has given our economy the big tick, which both buoys and annoys me.

On the positive front it is good to know our economy is viewed as strong from an international benchmarking agency.

However, I can’t help feeling a bit patronised when the IMF suggests we are doing a good job and should keep on with reform. Now, I know how those less fortunate nations feel when we tell them how to run things. It’s hard not to sound condescending even when you are being upbeat.


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