Andrew Burrel –
The Gillard government has been accused of failing to consult before awarding oil and gas exploration licences after it allowed Woodside Petroleum and Shell to launch a $350 million drilling campaign within 10km of the spectacular Rowley Shoals off the West Australian coast.
The Australian revealed yesterday that Woodside and Shell were preparing to explore for oil and gas close to the premier diving spot, which the WA government describes as “one of the most pristine marine areas in the world”.
The companies were awarded three offshore exploration leases covering about 10,000sq km.
The move has angered green groups, which say any exploration close to the coral atolls is dangerous because of the risks of an oil spill and the threat posed to marine life during seismic surveys.
Divers and green groups say the Rowley Shoals, 300km off the coast, rival the Great Barrier Reef for their spectacular coral and marine life but few Australians are aware of them because of their inaccessible location.
WA Environment Minister Bill Marmion said yesterday the federal government had not informed him of the exploration licences, which are close to the state government-controlled Rowley Shoals Marine Park.
The federal Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism is inviting bids for another three exploration blocks that surround the Rowley Shoals, with bids closing today.