New data analysis has revealed successive WA Governments have allowed a single fracking company to clear land in the Kimberley - much of it world-renowned tropical savannah - roughly equivalent in length to the distance between Perth and London to search for oil and gas since 2009.
Unbelievably, the company, Buru Energy, which has recently entered a partnership with notorious frackers Origin Energy, has been able to clear the land without even needing to apply for a permit. WA law does not require oil and gas companies to apply for environmental approval to conduct this sort of land clearing. It is carried out under an ‘exemption’ which allows the Mines Department to approve however much clearing the companies want.
In total, the 4.5 metre-wide seismic lines that were cleared stretch more than 14,000 km across the Kimberley’s iconic landscape (analysis here), and Buru Energy and Origin Energy have plans to conduct a further 1200kms of seismic surveys this year.
The disturbing data, compiled from the WA Government’s Mines Department (DMIRS) website, provides an ominous view of the future for the Kimberley’s Canning Basin if fracking companies are given the go ahead to drill thousands of oil and gas wells as planned, which would require much more land to be cleared.
Lock the Gate Alliance WA and Kimberley locals are now calling for an immediate overhaul of State Government legislation so oil and gas companies are not given free rein to clear as much land as they want.
Broome community member and Yawuru Traditional Owner Micklo Corpus said, “Imagine a bulldozer with a blade, dropped to ground level, pushing over anything in its way for 70, 80 or 100 kilometers. What’s in the way is trees, anthills, and these trees are medicine trees, fruit trees, but they just knock them over. Then every 100m or 200m they clear another track again and again so it looks like a grid pattern from above.
“It shapes the country and changes the movement of water on our country. It threatens endangered and vulnerable animals, like the bilby.
“When I wanted to go and camp on my country, I was told I couldn’t camp there because I wasn’t permitted, that I didn’t have the permits to do that. But the company can come onto my country and they have 40 to 50 people setting up camps there to carry out these surveys.
“We have Native Title rights on Yawuru country but are told by the government that we can’t camp there.”
Lock the Gate Alliance WA coordinator Claire McKinnon said, “The Kimberley has the most intact tropical savannah remaining in the world and the McGowan government is allowing oil and gas companies free rein to slice and dice ecosystems without any need for a permit.
“This situation is utterly unacceptable.
“A total lack of WA Government assessment of petroleum related clearing has led to this massive loss and fragmentation of native vegetation and habitat.
“If any farmer, private citizen, or other type of company were to try to clear this shocking amount of habitat, they would be hauled before the courts before they even cleared the equivalent of Perth to Fremantle.
“This is totally unacceptable, especially so in a region as special as the Kimberley. That’s why we need an urgent overhaul of how the McGowan Government assesses these oil and gas company applications.
“Buru has totally scarred the Kimberley, and the company didn’t even have to apply to do it. The McGowan Government must stop bending over backwards for fracking companies.”
Through an interdepartmental memorandum of understanding, power has been delegated from the EPA to the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) to authorise seismic surveys for petroleum without companies needing to apply for permits or associated assessments on impacts.
Authority was given to DMIRS despite an apparent conflict of interest whereby the government department responsible for enabling the oil & gas industry also gives the approvals for seismic surveys.
This goes against the recommendation of the 2018 Independent Scientific Panel Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation in Western Australia:
o Recommendation 1: The cumulative impacts of landscape clearing and fragmentation depend on scale and duration. Such impacts should be anticipated and assessed prior to development approval, with the eventual rehabilitation and restoration of redundant infrastructure clearing meeting the expectations of both regulators and the community.
The EPA stated in their 2015-2016 annual report (p. 14) that, “With multiple agencies involved and no single consistent mechanism for recording approved clearing there is currently no reliable means to determine how much native vegetation has been approved to clear, or how much is cleared in any given year, State-wide.”
Buru has a notorious reputation in the Kimberley - it has previously admitted that testing of flowback fluids from its 2015 fracking operations in the Kimberley showed elevated levels of the chemical contaminants boron and barium and the radionuclide radium-228. The company's solution to disposing of radioactive wastewater was to give it to cattle.
Origin has also previously admitted to contaminating water with BTEX - a mixture of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene - at around eight coal seam gas wells near Miles in Southern Queensland.