Proposed World Heritage site under threat in Mid-west
Conservation groups have accused the EPA and Environment Minister of ‘astonishing bias’ bias towards the gas fracking industry following revelations that final approvals have been issued for the clearing of huge areas of rare vegetation (including in a Nature Reserve) without full environmental assessment or community consultation.
Up to 500km of 3-metre wide tracks will be cleared across a 100 square-kilometer area to identify sites for gas fracking wells in and around the Beekeepers Nature Reserve in the state’s Mid-west. Norwest Energy has said they plan to turn the area into a commercial gas fracking field if exploration is successful.
Today it emerged that the final approval had been issued for the exploration activity by the Office of the EPA, just hours after General Manager Kim Taylor received an urgent letter from conservation groups seeking greater scrutiny on the proposal.
Known as “Kwongan Heath” the area has greater plant diversity than the Amazon Rainforest and is so unique that it is proposed by scientists to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Conservation Council Director Piers Verstegen said “This decision is an alarming insight into what the State Government and its EPA are prepared to do to promote the gas fracking industry in this state.
“No other industry would be able to get away with this; however when it comes to gas fracking not even Nature Reserves with World Heritage values are allowed to stand in the way.
“Experts are working to have this area UNESCO World heritage listed because of its globally significant biodiversity values. Despite this, the EPA did not carry out a full assessment, no community consultation has occurred, and approvals required for the project have been rushed through at both a state and federal level.”
“This clearing for a seismic survey could pave the way for hundreds or thousands of fracking wells in the region which would have a devastating impact on biodiversity while placing groundwater and health at risk.
“Clearly the State Government is not listening to the concerns of the community and has no interest in protecting the environment when gas fracking is involved.
“Local residents, farmers, businesses and conservation groups have all expressed their opposition to this shocking proposal; however the State Government and gas companies continue to ignore community views in their rush to develop commercial scale gas fracking in Western Australia.”
The local community will be holding emergency meetings about the next steps in their battle to protect their water, health and environment from gas fracking. Meanwhile, CCWA will be seeking urgent legal advice about possible avenues to challenge the decision in the courts.
Media contact: Piers Verstegen – 0411 557 892
· Commercial-scale gas fracking involves drilling hundreds or thousands of wells across the landscape and injecting water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the ground to crack layers of rock and release gas.
· Gas fracking uses many chemicals in large quantities as part of the process and gas fracking activities have been associated with groundwater and surface water contamination in the USA (shale gas) and in Queensland (coal seam gas).
· Commercial gas fracking has been associated with a number of health conditions in the USA and in eastern states of Australia. Residents living near fracking gasfields have reported neurological symptoms, headaches, ear and nosebleeds and symptoms of chemical exposure.
· Gas fracking exploration permits cover large areas of WA’s fragile coastal plains, from near Carnarvon down to Margaret River. A huge swathe of the pristine Kimberley region is covered in exploration permits.
· 25% of WA’s water reserve areas are already covered by petroleum leases. Fracking could take place in over 35 drinking water supply areas, including almost every coastal water resource from Margaret River to Geraldton.
· Since 2008, 7 or 8 exploration gas fracks have taken place in WA. There have already been serious issues:
o Corybas well in the Mid West was found to be leaking in 2010
o A waste water pond at Buru’s Yulleroo 3 operation overflowed into the surrounding environment in 2013. Locals also reported that Yulleroo 2 well was leaking gas in 2014.
o Warro 5&6 wells in the Watheroo National Park in the Mid West were abandoned after intersecting a high pressure artesian aquifer.
· The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet done an Environmental Impact Assessment on any fracking projects in WA.
About the Kwongan Heath
· The Kwongan heathland (which includes Beekeeper’s Nature Reserve) is a globally unique ecosystem in the State’s Mid West.
· As reported last week, Scientists from UWA are working to get world heritage listing for the national parks and nature reserves of the Kwongan Heath.
· The Kwongan heath contains many endemic species and is an internationally listed biodiversity hotspot.
· Famous for its wildflowers, the region contains greater plant diversity than the Amazon Rainforest.
· The Beekeeper’s Nature Reserve also has a very special resident – the honey possum. Honey possums (pictured) are a tiny 10-gram marsupial measuring less than 10 cm in length.
· The species dated back more than 60 million years, but is now endangered, found only in pockets of the Kwongan Heath.
· Native vegetation clearing for fracking and seismic testing poses a great risk to the food supply of the honey possum. This little guy is Australia’s only nectivorous (honey- and pollen-eating) marsupial and relies on a steady supply of wildflower pollen and honey throughout the year for its diet.