Thursday, April 15, 2010

Expression of Concern at Proposal to Construct Gas-Processing Hub at James Price Point, on the coast of the Dampier Peninsula, in the Kimberley Region

17-25 September 2009
This document expresses concern at the recently-announced proposal to exploit natural petroleum gas resources of the Browse Basin by installing a pipe-line and gas-processing hub on the coast of the Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia.

This expression of concern is directed to the State Government of Western Australia, the Federal Government of Australia, and all or any of their corporate industrial partners who may be engaged in exploiting mineral resources of the Browse Basin.

Signatories to this document are professional scientists with special research interests in geological and biological evidence relating to the discipline of Vertebrate Palaeontology (the study of extinct vertebrate animals) and, more specifically, in terrestrial ecosystems of the Mesozoic Era (the 'Age of Dinosaurs'). These shared concerns are expressions of personal opinion and should not be interpreted as the views of any particular organizations or professional bodies.

Recently the State Government of Western Australia announced a well-advanced proposal to exploit natural gas resources of the Browse Basin by installing a pipe-line and gas-processing plant in the region of James Price Point, on the western coast of the Dampier Peninsula. The announcement provoked widespread and serious concern because Dampier Land is the western part of the Kimberley region, recognized internationally as one of the last five great wilderness areas remaining on this planet.* The first geological survey of the Dampier region was undertaken as recently as 1947, and much of the Kimberley remains unexplored to this day. Recent ecological investigations (2007-09) reported "amazing" diversity of animals and "countless" new and hitherto unknown species of plants.* In addition the Kimberley coastline was described as "spectacular and fragile". It seems singularly inappropriate to site major industrial developments in such a pristine environment, especially as its natural resources still await scientific investigation.

The proposal for a gas-processing hub mentioned merely that there were reports of dinosaur tracks in the area. In fact, the Dampier coast has provided practically the entire fossil record of dinosaurs in the western half of the Australian continent (the exceptions being a few small fragments of bone). Coastal exposures of the Broome Sandstone between Broome and Cape Leveque yield unique and richly informative insights into terrestrial ecosystems of Early Cretaceous age (approximately 132 million years old) and have been the focus of ongoing scientific research since 1991. The ancient Cretaceous landscapes were buried intact, and today those fossil landscapes are being exhumed by coastal erosion, revealing the original topography, with soils, leaf-litter and plants such cycads and ferns still in their original position of growth. The sites also contain evidence of invertebrate animals and crocodiles, but the most impressive fossils are the tracks of dinosaurs, some of them in densely-packed profusion. There are at least 15 different types of dinosaur tracks, representing every major group of the Dinosauria.† Some types are extremely rare, even unique; others represent dinosaurs that ranked among the largest yet known to science. Today one may walk across those ancient landscapes, following the tracks of dinosaurs as they meandered between the clumps of vegetation more than 130 million years ago. Few sites on Earth afford such opportunities to explore ancient terrestrial ecosystems in such complete and undisturbed condition.

The dino-saurian track-sites of the Dampier coast are rare and precious resources, with no parallel in other parts of Australia. They deserve to be protected, rather than jeopardised by industrial developments. Some of the most important sites happen to be situated in the central western sector of the Dampier coast - where they face the greatest risk of damage or degradation if industrial development is allowed to proceed in the region of James Price Point.

The proposed development should not be envisaged as an inconspicuous pipe-line. It entails the establishment of an exclusion zone (no go area) along the coast, the construction of a jetty (perhaps 2-3 km), an industrial precinct occupying 2,500 hectares of land and 1,000 hectares of sea, an extensive series of chemical processing plants and a factory to utilise by-products in the manufacture of agricultural fertiliser. The transit of heavy traffic (hundreds of trucks per day) will require the construction of the first sealed roads, and there must also be facilities to accommodate the labour-force and support staff. Then, with gas on tap, it may become economically feasible to commence bauxite mining and to build an aluminium smelter.

The proposal to site these industrial developments at James Price Point is manifestly the 'quick, cheap and easy' option. Other options exist, such as a pipe-line north-eastwards to Darwin, where the requisite infrastructure is already planned in order to exploit petroleum resources of the Timor Sea. Another option is a pipe-line south-eastwards to the Pilbara mining and industrial region. A third option is processing at the wellhead - loading the gas straight into tankers - which might be appropriate as most of it (>80%) is destined for export anyway. We urge decision-makers at all stages - federal, state and corporate - to adopt one of these (or similar) options, thus preserving the integrity of the Kimberley and its wealth of natural and scientific treasures.

*:Taggart, D. 2009. Pristine, precious and threatened. Zoo Times (Royal Zoological Society of South Australia), March 2009: 14-15.
† Thulborn, T. 2009. Dinosaur Tracks of the Broome Sandstone, Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia - interim review. A report prepared for the Kimberley National Heritage Assessment, Natural & Indigenous Heritage Branch, Australian Federal Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage & the Arts. November 2009, 25 pp.

Dr Tony Thulborn.
19 November 2009


  1. "Fossil find foils Fossil Fuel Hub"

  2. how can there be a heritage listing for the kimberly without including the biggest river or an entire coast with unique dino footprints?if this keeps going on surely people from the klc,barnetts mob and canberra must be up for the sack.this cartel of dunces and suckholes must should take a look at sacking some people too!

  3. sign the "don't fail the whales" at the wilderness society now.