Finally, a U.S. business magazine had the guts to look into Chevron's destruction of turtle habitat and a nature reserve with its massive Gorgon project. Thanks Forbes for shedding some light on the truth behind California-based Chevron's natural gas expansions in Australia. Read the story here.
On The Cover/Top Stories
Drilling Into Eden Christopher Helman,
08.03.11, 06:00 PM EDT
Forbes Magazine dated August 22, 2011
One of the Earth's most ecologically delicate
habitats is also home to a $50 billion natural gas project. Welcome to
A sea of steel and concrete is growing on this corner of Barrow Island, with coral reefs already dredged to make a tanker jetty.
Some call it Australia's
Galapagos, others Australia's Ark. Barrow Island, 75 miles off the
coast of Western Australia, was last connected to the mainland some
8,000 years ago. During those millennia of isolation this 90 square
miles of grassy hills dotted with termite mounds and surrounded by coral
reefs has evolved a collection of critters found nowhere else on Earth.
Among the 24 endangered species unique to Barrow: the burrowing
bettong, spectacled hare-wallaby, golden bandicoot, perentie lizard,
pseudo scorpion and blind spider. In 1910 it was designated a nature
preserve. Access to the island is severely restricted; all people and
gear heading there must go through quarantine. Even a stray seed could
disrupt the ecosystem. The accidental introduction of a cat or dingo
would spell disaster.
Yet the island is also home to some 2,000
workers toiling for Chevron as they build the $37 billion first phase of
an energy project called Gorgon. Like its mythological namesakes
(Medusa was a Gorgon), the project is hydra-headed, and will involve
dozens of wells drilled into giant offshore natural gas fields, subsea
pipelines snaking gas back to Barrow and five giant plants to take 1.4
trillion cubic feet of gas a year, chill it into a liquid, then pump it
into tankers. At an eventual rate of 25 million tons of LNG a year (and
ultimate cost north of $50 billion), Gorgon will produce enough gas to
power a city of 1 million people for 400 years. Chevron also plans to
capture carbon dioxide from the natural gas stream and inject it into
the earth a mile below Barrow's hopping wallabies. If all goes as
planned it will be the biggest carbon sequestration project in the
"Oil and gas can coexist with environmental stewardship,"
says Roy Krzywosinski, managing director of Chevron's Australia
business. He'd better hope so. Spills like BP's last year can be cleaned
up by man and dissipated by the oceans. Barrow's is a unique ecosystem
that once broken cannot be restored. If they succeed in drilling here,
working other Edens, like the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, will be
easy by comparison.
So how did Chevron get the, er, green light
to build such an audacious project on such sensitive ground? The simple
answer is that Chevron was grandfathered in. The company (and its
predecessors) started producing oil on Barrow Island in 1964--315
million barrels and counting so far. Those decades gave ample time to
perfect quarantine efforts, Chevron says, with the goal of preventing
even a single seed or bug from infiltrating the sanctuary. There were
only 27 quarantine breaches reported between 1964 and 2003, according to
Not everyone's convinced. Robin Chapple, a
green-party member of Australia's parliament, fears an erosion of care
since Gorgon construction got under way. Revelations that earlier this
year a handful of oilfield pipelines (damaged by hurricane-force winds
and rain) leaked small amounts of oil onto the island weakened his faith
further. "The myth of environmental best practices has been shattered,"
says Chapple. While he concedes nothing can stop Gorgon from being
built, he insists environmental practices can improve.
Chevron is trying. Every piece of equipment heading to the
island is first staged on the mainland, inspected, then sealed in white
plastic shrink-wrap to make it look like a creation by the artist
Christo. There are flaps in the plastic where quarantine workers insert
insecticide bombs to fumigate the gear. Where possible, only brand-new
equipment is used in order to mitigate the chance it picked up seeds or
spores. Workers, too, are monitored, their bags checked by sniffer dogs.
"It's like going to another country," quips Krzywosinski.
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That's enough reassurance for many Australians. It's frankly a
challenge to rally opposition to a project on an island almost no one
is allowed to set foot on in a territory four times the size of Texas
but home to only 2 million people. Mining for iron, copper, gold and
coal is the keystone of the Western Australia economy. Flush with cash
from mining and energy projects (a unionized welder can bring home
$500,000 a year), the citizenry is relatively sanguine about
environmental damage. When the government recently allowed Woodside
Energy to move hundreds of pieces of 10,000-year-old aboriginal rock art
in order to make way for gas development, there wasn't much of a fight.
Energy companies have found enough gas Down Under to inspire $200
billion in LNG projects. If they all get built, Australia could surpass
Qatar as the world's leading LNG shipper--and one that is half the
distance to the hungry Asian market. Chevron holds $50 billion of its
$290 billion in worldwide assets in Australia, according to Deutsche
Bank analysis. Even before Gorgon is operational (first gas in 2014),
Chevron hopes to have construction on another $10 billon LNG project
called Wheatstone under way. "Every government wants to be the one to
approve projects," says Paul Gamblin, director of the Australian office
of the World Wildlife Fund. "Questions are not asked too much of the
That doesn't mean getting the nod for Gorgon was
easy. The primary gas field, also called Gorgon, was discovered in 1981;
since then a gargantuan 40 trillion cubic feet of gas has been
identified nearby. In the 1990s former owner Ampolex floated the idea of
having an LNG operation up and running by 2000. Once Chevron took over
it pushed ahead, even preselling LNG supply and a tiny equity stake to
Asian customers (Chevron holds 47%, with Shell and ExxonMobil at 25%
each). Yet its early plans were panned by Australia's Environmental
Protection Authority in 2006, and the company had to tell customers they
wouldn't be getting gas by 2010 as contracted.
(Read full story at http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0822/features-chevron-barrow-island-natural-gas-drilling-eden.html)