the nation reviewed become in a nature-based tourism town like Exmouth. Many more would be shocked to see what a map of offshore oil-and-gas tenements in the Ningaloo region looks like today. In some places our historic “line in the sand” looks faint indeed. Few Australians understand how close the rigs are to Ningaloo Reef already, or how hard it’s been for conservationists and regulators to maintain the slim buffer between the drills and pipes and the World Heritage area. At night, rig flares are visible from the beaches and lagoons. And this year the monstrous flame of Chevron’s new Wheatstone gas project has lit up the sky like an endlessly rising moon. Wheatstone is based at the town of Onslow, 6o kilometres away. About 100 kilometres north of Ningaloo Reef, Chevron’s even more contentious Gorgon LNG operation at Barrow Island is about to progress to its next, gargantuan, stage. The state government granted Chevron permission to extract gas there under strict terms that included offsetting its monumental carbon-dioxide emissions by sequestration. The company predicted that, in the first two years of operation, between 5.5 and 8 million tonnes would be injected into the ground. But those two years have passed and Chevron’s abatement strategy is still not operational. So those millions of tonnes of pollution are already in the atmosphere. It’s an uncomfortable reminder that LNG isn’t quite the clean energy alternative it’s marketed as. And as for the furphy about Gorgon bolstering the nation’s energy needs, most of that gas is exported. The northern reaches of Ningaloo Reef are thoroughly encircled by oil-and-gas. Visitors find this hard to believe, but at night the sinister flares on the horizon are hard to miss. I suspect when tourists catch a glimpse of those flames, the sight produces only the briefest moment of discord. Because no one wants to think about leaks or explosions. And the prospect of a spill as catastrophic as the one at Montara? Well, that’s quickly dismissed. The great oil disaster of 2009 happened further north, in the Timor Sea. Somewhere safely foreign-sounding. Many locals are certain something so dreadful could never happen in the oilfields off Ningaloo. But even without a spill or a blowout, the oil-and-gas industry remains the biggest threat to the reef’s survival. Because the most significant acknowledged danger to the world’s coral reefs is the unchecked emission of carbon dioxide. At present, and understandably, the national focus is on coal. But some of Australia’s biggest carbon polluters are right on Ningaloo’s doorstep. They are visible to the naked eye. Their emissions are not. But they are real and present. And they can’t be ignored. The current gas rush on the North West Shelf is no small phenomenon. But, like all resource booms, it will pass. Its benefits are temporary, and they come at a very high cost, because their negative consequences will endure forever. Long after the industry shuts up shop “MOVING & POIGNANT, FUNNY & DELIGHTFUL” “A RARE GEM OF A FILM” HEYUGUYS DEADLINE IN CINEMAS JANUARY 24 15
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