12/05/2011 - 00:00

James Price Point hub a step closer

12/05/2011 - 00:00

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The backers of the James Price Point gas hub in the Kimberley face real challenges getting support where it is really needed.

James Price Point hub a step closer

DON Voelte and Colin Barnett must have been relieved men last Friday, after native title claimants in Broome voted to support development of a gas-processing precinct just north of the town at James Price Point.

The vote was a major milestone in the long journey needed to get the project off the ground.

There is a long way to go yet, and no guarantee the project will gain the critical environmental approval it needs in Canberra.

Nor is there any guarantee it will win majority support from the residents of Broome, or from the current joint venture partners.

Mr Voelte, as Woodside Petroleum chief executive, and the premier have championed the development of James Price Point.

It is designed to be a gas-processing hub that will support the development of the giant gas fields located off the Kimberley coast.

First cab off the rank is due to be the Browse Basin project, which is half-owned by, and operated by, Woodside.

At this stage it is unclear which, if any, other project will follow, though Mr Barnett keeps on trying to lure Japanese company Inpex, which is developing the Ichthys project.

Inpex had planned to bring the gas ashore on the Kimberley coast but, after getting mired in long delays, chose instead to pipe the gas to Darwin, which already has an established gas-processing precinct.

Getting Inpex and its new partner, French company Total, to turn their backs on Darwin would be a major coup for Mr Barnett.

But first he has to get James Price Point under way, and to do that he needs to head off a coalition of environmental, tourism and community interests.

Many locals are unsettled by the project; they are concerned about the impact a giant industrial project and a massive construction workforce will have on the charm and social fabric of their community.

The tourist industry is concerned that giant liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants, plus multiple LNG tankers and service boats will detract from the region’s appeal.

Within the indigenous community there remains substantial opposition, evidenced by the 164 to 108 vote last Friday, and continued legal challenges.

But arguably the biggest hurdle facing supporters of the project is opposition from environmentalists, who liken their campaign to the successful fight against Gunns’ proposed pulp mill in Tasmania.

With prominent business executive turned environmental campaigner Geoff Cousins leading the charge, and support from the Greens and celebrities such as Missy Higgins and John Butler, Environment Minister Tony Burke will be under enormous pressure when he rules on the project.

With the federal government flip-flopping on many issues, it’s hard to know which way the minster will go.

Advocates of the project need to highlight the enormous benefits that will flow.

That should start with the package of benefits that will go to the local indigenous community over the life of the project, valued at $1 billion by Woodside and $1.5 billion by the state government.

This will include funds to establish businesses, build homes and boost education; and provide training programs, direct employment and contracting opportunities.

Mr Barnett said on Friday there would be a commensurate expansion of benefits if other LNG proponents take up land in the precinct.

In terms of employment and business opportunities, the proponents could do more to explain how they will generate sustainable and manageable opportunities.

If the project simply creates a short-term construction boom that causes economic dislocation, then brings in hundreds of fly-in, fly-out workers to operate the plant, the locals will be understandably unimpressed.

In regard to environmental impact, the backers of the project need to demonstrate the highly concentrated impact of the gas plant in what is a vast region.

Mr Barnett is sensitive to this issue, stating on Friday that James Price Point will be the only site used for onshore processing of gas in the Kimberley, adding that: “the Kimberley will not become an industrial site for heavy industry”.

Another big uncertainty is the stance of Woodside’s joint venture partners, including BHP Billiton, Chevron and Shell, which have plenty of other growth opportunities on their plate.

Like many others, it appears that they also remain to be convinced.

 

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