In the far north of Western Australia, a campaign is being fought by a community that looks set to change the landscape of the Australian resource sector forever.
For the first time a community is winning the fight against a resource giant and a government hell bent on industrialising their town.
Woodside, the largest operator of oil and gas in Australia, are proposing to build the world’s second largest LNG gas plant at James Price Point, Broome, in the Kimberley region, at a cost of AU$45 billion, along with Joint Venture Partners Shell, MIMI, BP, BHP Billiton.
The Kimberley, a pristine wilderness area the size of Germany, has a population of only 40,000 people, and has felt the smallest environmental impact of European colonisation.
The resource boom that has swept across the rest of Western Australia has largely left the Kimberley region untouched, due to a lack of infrastructure. This will all change if the gas hub goes ahead.
Environmental concerns, cultural heritage and social impact concerns have mobilised the community of Broome. Over the past four years, the community has organised to form a powerful campaign, drawing together a diverse group of people, and allies, united in their opposition to the project.
Rallies, protests and frontline blockades have attracted attention throughout Australia, and across the world. And the campaign has grown in to a national issue, with protests occurring in every Australian capital city.
Unnerved by the unexpected and unrelenting level of backlash against what was expected to be a routine resource land grab, the state government, spending over a $million, sent hundreds of extra police officers to Broome in an attempt to quash opposition and intimidate the community into silence.
Over 70 people, teenagers to grandparents, have been arrested so far. People with no prior experience of the judicial system have found themselves on the wrong side of the law as they act in defense of their own town.
Woodside and the extremely pro- gas state government have found themselves fought in the courts, including the Supreme Court ruling that the compulsory acquisition of the land under Native Title was unlawful.
Corrupt government processes have been challenged – the West Australian Environmental Protection Agency recently completed its assessment of the project (recommending its approval), with all but one member of the EPA’s board having to bow out of the decision due to conflicts of interest.
And against all odds, it looks as though this community is winning the David and Goliath battle against a government, and some of the largest companies on the globe.
Financial analysts routinely question the viability of the project. JP Morgan describes the community opposition as “unwavering, increasingly organised and gathering momentum” and expects that the gas will be processed in an existing facility south of Broome – an outcome welcomed by all opponents to the project, and even preferred by some of the Joint Venture partners.
Cracks have appeared between government and the Joint Venture, and between the Joint Venture partners themselves. Alternatives exist that offer better internal rates of return. Technology exists to enable the extraction of gas in a responsible way.
Communities around Australia are watching this fight and realising that unwanted and inappropriate developments are not inevitable. And that the powerful force of a well organised community requires companies and governments to start to take their desires into account when attempting to impose mega developments upon them.
Woodside are set to make the final investment decision on this project mid 2013.
Ironically, by the time Woodside call it a day, they will leave behind a unified, highly mobilized, highly organised, experienced community ready to strike down their next opponent’s attempt to industrialise their town without consent.
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