James Price Point gas hub controversy

Róisin Mortimer

The name James Price Point is starting to ring bells across the country. Located 40 kms north of Broome, the point has been proposed for the largest gas processing plant in the world.

Petroleum giant Woodside and WA Premier Colin Barnett are leading a formidable team of joint venture partners − BP, BHP, Shell, and Mitsui/Mitsubishi − in the proposal for a Browse Natural Liquefied Gas Hub as part of the Premier's grandiose Kimberley development project.

The building of the gas hub would spell the destruction of James Price Point, which is a unique ecosystem and home to the Goolarabooloo and Jabba Jabba people. It would waste significant sums of taxpayer's money in the construction of a new processing site when viable alternatives are already in operation in the Pilbara.

The support Woodside's proposal has gained from Barnett and industry is huge. However, there has been huge community protests against the planned development with many arrests in recent months, and recent visits by leading whale activists Sea Shepherd and former Greens leader Bob Brown to vouch their support.

James Price Point is of enormous cultural and ecological significance. It is part of an Aboriginal song line which encapsulates history, geography, culture, song and law. More than 30 Aboriginal tribes remain in the region today, each with their own language and unique cultural practices. Evidence has been found of Aboriginal habitation as far back as 28,000 years on the Dampier Peninsula (the greater region of James Price Point), and 40,000 years elsewhere in the Kimberley.

The proposed gas hub was recently granted environmental approval by the WA Environmental Protection Authority, and is now awaiting further assessment by the federal environment minister. It would appear that Barnett's main motivation for choosing James Price Point for the hub is that it would create a prime gateway to open up the entire Kimberley area to further mining and gas developments.

Given the scale of the project one would expect a robust and comprehensive environmental impact assessment based on sound science, however this was not the case. Furthermore, when the EPA made its assessment, four of the five EPA board members had to withdraw from the decision making process due to conflict of interest, leaving a 'quorum' of one.

James Price Point is a calving ground for the world's largest population of humpback whales – there have been hundreds of reported sightings within the past few months – and home to newly discovered Spinner Dolphins, endangered Hawksbill turtles, dugongs and incredible dinosaur footprints.

The Kimberley is home to thousands of plant and animal species, many highly specialised, vulnerable, threatened or endangered, including the Golden bandicoot, the Scaly tailed possum, and the Kimberley Rock and Kimberley Cave bats. The iconic exposed sandstones overlaid with the reddish sandy plains characteristic to the region are covered with numerous fossil marine shells and a number of dinosaur footprints.

There are viable alternatives to the Woodside project. Gas could be piped to existing facilities in the Pilbara, or floating gas technology could be utilised. Recent reports from Citibank advisers have also found that costs could be reduced by $15 billion if the gas was shipped to the Pilbara area, where it would receive a rate of return 4% higher. Leading analysts employed by Merril Lynch and JP Morgan have also expressed doubts. Mr Barnett has justified the significant associated costs by citing plans which would generate economic revenue through further destruction of the area's invaluable and irreplaceable ecological and cultural assets.

If we're serious about protecting our nation's future we need to stop seeking short-sighted economic windfalls, and look at the broader picture. James Price Point is an asset to Australia, and one which should be worthy of protection for its cultural significance, uniquely beautiful environment and the habitat it provides for wildlife. Mr Barnett needs a big wake up call, as do Tony and Julia. We need James Price Point to become an election issue to signal that we, the next generation, do not want to live in a landscape devoid of life.