Drillers eye Barrier Reef

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FEARS are held for the Great Barrier Reef with Australia’s oil and gas companies pushing to drill in national parks and marine conservation areas.The powerful oil and gas industry is seeking to expand exploration into resource-rich protected areas to meet demands for the dwindling resources.

The push comes 30 years after former Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen was blocked from setting up oil rigs on the environmentally-sensitive Reef, which some believe holds more oil than Bass Strait.

Due to rapid technological advances, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) says drilling can now be done in deserts, coral reefs, tropical rainforests and urban environments without harming the environment.

While APPEA has specifically ruled out drilling inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, conservationists are worried oil rigs could be set up just outside the park, with equally dangerous consequences.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry into Australia’s national parks and conservation zones, the industry warns against a blanket ban that would permanently lock them out of protected areas.

Instead, it argues that exploration, drilling and production in “sensitive environments” should be considered on a project-by-project basis.

Association chief executive Belinda Robinson yesterday said the industry could operate in many protected areas without impacting on the values trying to be protected. “Of course the environment is important, and it is a legitimate expectation of the Australian people that it is going to be managed appropriately,” she said.

“No one wants to be considered an environmental vandal, we certainly don’t. (But) it is a matter of taking a commonsense approach. Go out to any oil platform for example, and we act as artificial reefs and all these ecosystems start operating around the platforms.”

She said the industry was not “gunning” for any particular areas at the moment.

“This is not a cowboy industry, it is an industry that takes its environmental obligations very seriously,” she said.

“In the end, there are going to be places like the Great Barrier Reef where we do not operate.”

But Queensland Conservation Council co-ordinator Toby Hutcheon said a desperate oil and gas industry was eyeing off massive reserves just outside the marine park.

“There has not been a major oil discovery for about 30 years and what has transpired is that many of the resources happen to be next to protected areas,” he said.

“If you have an oil spill on a rig outside the Great Barrier Reef, you cannot stop that going into the Reef. The most obvious thing to do is not put the national park at a risk in the first place.”

In a submission to a separate inquiry into Australia’s future oil supplies, the CSIRO warns the “security and reliability” of Australia’s oil supply is a concern, adding “Australian oil reserves are under-explored”.

Source: Courier Mail (Australia)