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WA to stop Shell’s plans if reef at risk

March 11, 2011 – 3:49PM

AAP

The West Australian government says it will do all it can to stop oil and gas exploration near Ningaloo Reef if there is the slightest chance the reef will be threatened.

Energy giant Shell has applied for federal government approval for 60 days’ exploration drilling in an area about 50km west of the Ningaloo marine park’s boundary.

The plan has come under attack by environmentalists who say the risk of an oil spill is too great and could devastate one of the world’s most biodiverse coral reef systems.

On Friday, Premier Colin Barnett said the WA government would have little say in the initial application as the area Shell intends to drill is in Commonwealth waters.

“But if we as a state government believe that there is any threat, even the slightest threat to Ningaloo Reef, we will do all we could to intervene to make sure that didn’t go ahead,” he told ABC Radio.

Mr Barnett said although the exploration drilling would be about 50km away from the reef, where he believed it was possible to drill without any risk, he would seek reassurance from Shell.

“Now 50km is a long, long way away from the reef, it’s over the horizon and out of sight,” he said.

“But we will certainly, if the Commonwealth does favour doing this, we will take whatever means we can to make sure there’s absolutely no risk to Ningaloo.”

Mr Barnett said any drilling near Ningaloo would compromise a current submission for the reef to be world heritage listed, and the federal government needed to consider that.

Ningaloo Reef’s nomination was lodged by the federal government in January 2010 and is still under assessment.

Federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson has foreshadowed increasingly rigorous regulatory requirements for the proposal.

If federal environmental approval is given Shell must present a detailed proposal to the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum to gain exploration rights under a joint authority system.

� 2011 AAP

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