Submerged scientist slams shale oil

Feature story - 22 July, 2008
A world renowned coral reef scientist Dr. Charlie Veron joined Greenpeace activists underwater to make a bold statement against the shale oil industry and for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef from climate change.

A new shale oil mine threatens the Great Barrier Reef

Formerly the chief scientist for the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Dr. Veron joined divers from our ship the Esperanza to highlight the combined threats to the reefs future coming from coal fired power stations and shale oil exploitation: "By mid-century, the corals of the Great Barrier Reef will have been replaced by bacterial slime and the biodiversity we now see will have been gone forever. We must never let this happen. We must reduce CO2 emissions urgently."

The Esperanza was welcomed to the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, over the weekend, by more than 80 local vessels as it arrived to join a community of thousands fighting a proposed shale oil mine that threatens catastrophic impacts on the Reef.

The proposed mine is just 10 kilometres from the pristine Great Barrier Reef, on the internationally significant Goorganga Wetlands. If approved, the mine will consume vast amounts of water while causing toxic leaching and air pollution from waste rock and water. The Whitsunday region is one of the natural wonders of the world and to consider setting up an industry as environmentally destructive as shale oil here is lunacy.

Shale oil is one of the most environmentally damaging way of getting fossil fuel out of the ground but it is also a major climate changer. This one project would create up to 40 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year, which is equivalent to a quarter of Queensland's annual emissions.

Yachts, kayaks, and boats of all shapes and sizes joined the flotillaagainst the shale oil mine.

Despite the long standing mining businesses in Queensland, the media has been generally supportive toward this campaign and locals are sensing a shift in general attitudes towards the industry. In the last week, the regional tourism association has come out in support of the community against the shale oil mine.

This is a campaign we've fought before. The Stuart Shale Oil project in Gladstone, Queensland was a small scale shale oil processing plant. During its lifetime numerous chemical compounds associated with cancer, lung and skin problems were released and the air stank so badly making people feel like vomiting, while buildings vibrated during the mine's trial processing runs. Between 1998 and 2004, Greenpeace and local communities fought the shale oil industry in Australia, ultimately shutting it down. But, now it is back.

While the Shale Oil development represents a very local threat to the Reef and would contribute to global climate change, global climate change itself, regardless of the source of emissions threatens the reefs future. Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh would do well to realise this, since she may oppose Shale oil mining in the region, she plans to double Queensland's coal exports by 2030. But, wherever coal is burned, growing CO2 emissions will cause irreparable damage to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Rudd Government currently has no plans for long-term solutions to end Australia's current reliance on oil, coal and road transport. The establishment of a national shale oil industry would be disastrous, not just for the environment and people, but for other segments of the economy as well. The agriculture and tourism industries are already threatened by the impacts of climate change. The priceless Great Barrier Reef, creates more jobs than Australia's entire coal industry and generates important tourism dollars. It is already threatened by permanent coral bleaching as a result of climate change.

The Esperanza is currently touring the east coast of Australia to promote the use of renewable energy rather than dirty fossil fuels.

We want the government to keep its election promise to tackle climate change. Rudd must kick start Australia's energy revolution. Long-term planning and public investment in an efficient transport system can tackle reliance on oil and vulnerability to rising oil prices while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Investment in renewable energy can see the coal industry phased out by 2030, helping to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Take Action

Add your voice – sign the petition for renewable energy in Australia.

Join Us

Our vision of a better future is only as strong as the people who support us. Join Greenpeace today and add your voice to the movement that's committed to defending our planet. Your support will make all the difference.