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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

30 January 2001

Proposed Seismic Testing Triggers EPBC Act


Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill has considered whether the proposal to conduct seismic testing in the Townsville Trough will trigger the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The proposal is to seek a special prospecting authority from the Queensland Government to conduct seismic surveys in the Townsville Trough, an area of Commonwealth waters off the Queensland coast. The boundary of the survey area is 50 kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

"The application has not yet been lodged with the Queensland Government."

"While the prospecting authority is granted by the Queensland Government, the proponent has nevertheless sought my decision on whether the planned seismic operations will trigger the Commonwealth EPBC Act and thereby also require my approval."

Whales and the Marine Environment

"I have decided that the proposed seismic operations will trigger the EPBC Act in relation to potential impacts on threatened whale species and the marine environment."

"Furthermore, I have decided that the world heritage provisions of the EPBC Act are triggered in relation to the potential impacts on migratory species such as the humpback whale."

"Humpback whales are recognised as one of the world heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef. Whales that breed and migrate in the World Heritage property may also be found in the survey area."

"The proponent's own documentation acknowledges the deficiency of data in relation to potential impacts on whales."

Great Barrier Reef

"It is clear that the proposed seismic tests will not adversely affect the Great Barrier Reef itself. No drilling will be carried out. The acoustic noise associated with seismic testing will not affect areas of the actual Reef, which are at least 70 kilometres away."

"However, it seems obvious that seismic activity is carried out only as a precursor to further exploration and production activities, such as drilling."

"In my view, therefore, before the Queensland government grants authority for seismic work it should require a strategic environmental assessment."

"The assessment should examine what, if any, part of the Townsville Trough could be the subject of oil and gas exploration and production activity without threatening the Great Barrier Reef."

"The Queensland Government should take that assessment into account when deciding whether to grant the required authority."

Senator Hill said the Commonwealth would be prepared to co-operate with Queensland in conducting such an assessment.

January 30, 2001

Contact: Belinda Huppatz 08 8237 7920 or 0419 258364

Commonwealth of Australia