The iconic Kimberley region has been identified as one of the most prospective regions in the world for shale gas and tight sands gas production, with an estimated 229 trillion cubic feet of gas within the onshore Canning Basin.
Although still at the early exploration stage, tens of thousands of wells could be drilled in the area if the industry goes to full production, changing the stunning Kimberley landscape forever.
What’s at risk?
The Kimberley has some of the largest intact natural landscapes left in the world.
It is also a culturally rich region, home to a living Aboriginal culture that is many tens of thousands of years old where Traditional Owners have a strong connection to country. First Nations peoples’ rights, interests in, and knowledge about the land and waters are critical to the region’s future.
The National Heritage-listed Fitzroy River, with its outstanding cultural values, supports a huge array of wildlife including the critically endangered Freshwater Sawfish and 18 species of fish found nowhere else in the world.
The eucalypt woodland and tall grassland that covers the region and most of northern Australia are the world’s most extensive intact tropical savannahs. The vast Kimberley coast and seas are recognised as being amongst the most intact marine areas in the world.
Yet the Kimberley is under serious threat of industrialisation by the oil and gas industry, keen to exploit the region’s vast fossil fuel reserves despite the impact this will have on the fragile and unique environment and its people. The Kimberley’s annual wet season makes fracking operations and managing wastewater ponds even more risky here than in other parts of Australia. At the same time the expansion of this industry means displacing more sustainable industries such as ranger programs, tourism and renewable energy that could support the region in the long term.
Gas Projects and Prospects
Following immense public pressure, the WA Government banned fracking in parts of WA but left open swathes of land across the state’s agricultural and Kimberley regions for fracking oil and gas fields. Companies are now ramping up to exploit the vast oil and gas reserves.
Gas licences cover large parts of the Kimberley with a number of companies involved including Origin Energy, Buru Energy, Theia Energy, Goshawk Energy and Bennett Resources, a subsidiary of Texan frackers Black Mountain Oil and Gas. Check out this map to see which companies have petroleum leases in the Kimberley’s Canning Basin and where.
To date, only 3 wells have been fracked in the Kimberley but already significant issues have occurred. Community members found Buru Energy’s Yulleroo 2 well leaking greenhouse gases. It was later revealed that this well hadn’t been inspected by any government department for 7 years, from when it was drilled until the second leak was reported in 2015. At the Asgard well site near the Fitzroy River, wastewater was found to be radioactive.
If this industry can’t be safely managed with just a few wells, the impact tens of thousands of wells could be catastrophic for this iconic region. Although the WA Government has committed to safeguards including veto rights for Traditional Owners and freeholders, these protections are yet to be enacted.