New oil leases threaten Ningaloo Reef

Western Australia’s peak environmental body claims new offshore oil leases awarded on Friday are threatening the recently world heritage listed Ningaloo Reef.

Conservation Council of WA Marine Coordinator Tim Nicol said, “With this year’s round of planned and approved oil leases, every major coral reef in the Northwest of our state could soon be threatened by the risk of a nearby oil spill.”

One lease awarded to Woodside Energy and Mitsui E&P, WA-463-P, comes within 20km of the Ningaloo Marine Park and world heritage area and locks in $42m of exploration, including drilling. Two other leases that were awarded to Woodside lie offshore not far from Ningaloo. Woodside and Shell were also awarded new leases offshore from the Rowley Shoals coral reefs, which are among the most remote and pristine marine areas in the world.

Mr Nicol said, “We are calling on the Government to put some balance into the management of our Northwest oceans by creating a marine sanctuary offshore from Ningaloo Reef that will provide a permanent buffer against the impacts of oil drilling and the risk of spills.

“No one wants to see a Gulf of Mexico or Timor Sea oil spill right off the coast from Ningaloo Reef.

“The waters off our Northwest coast are some of the most unique and pristine tropical marine areas in the world. We need a much more responsible approach to balancing development with protecting this fragile marine environment.

“The Ningaloo Reef draws in millions of tourist dollars every year. An oil spill in the region would cripple this industry and put thousands of West Australians out of work. We need to set up a marine sanctuary to keep out the oil rigs and insure our natural heritage against industrial disasters.”

The 2011 release of proposed leases, which will be up for approval next year, was the biggest in the last decade. Approval of these leases in 2012 would further extend the area allocated for drilling along the Ningaloo coast, surround the Rowley Shoals coral reefs with oil leases and add to the oil leases already offshore from the Kimberley whale nursery. It would also add additional grounds offshore from the Shark Bay world heritage area, Dampier Archipelago, Scott Reef and the Abrolhos Islands.

The Federal Government is currently planning new marine sanctuaries for the Northwest region. The draft marine park plan is out for public comment, which closes on the 28th November. The Conservation Council of WA is urging all concerned members of the public to make their voices heard at http://ccwa.org.au/takeaction/marine_sanctuaries

Contact

Tim Nicol – 0422 235 774

John McCarten – 0403 900 193