The government of Australia's state of Queensland intends to give the go-ahead to the development of a commercial shale oil industry, Natural Resources Minister Andrew Crips said earlier this week, noting however that this could happen only if certain environment requirements are met, ABC News reports.
The first move under the plan will be allowing shale oil operator Queensland Energy Resources (QER) to proceed with bringing its trial plant in Gladstone to full commercial operation. The plant has been running for a couple of years and has already demonstrated it can operate without harming the environment, according to the minister. The strategy also envisages developing other oil shale fields in the state, but first monitoring will be carried out to examine their potential environmental impact, Crips explained.
The legislation changes are intended to address the depletion of crude oil reserves and make Queensland a leading supplier of oil going forward. Besides, opening up the oil shale industry will also have a favourable impact on the economy, as it will result in the creation of thousands of jobs in the state and will see fresh money flowing into Queensland's coffers, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says.
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Overriding the 20-year restrictions imposed on oil shale mining in 2008 by the former Bligh Labor government, however, will not apply to the McFarlane oil shale deposit near Proserpine, north of Mackay, Crips noted. The moratorium on developing this particular field will remain valid until 2028, as agreed earlier. The premier admitted that he was greatly concerned about any potential mining activities in the area since such development would have a devastating effect on the local ecosystem. Besides, the deposit is close to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia's most spectacular natural feature and the world's largest coral reef.
The move was welcomed by the Queensland Resources Council (QRC), which believes that it will help the state lower its reliance on oil supplies from abroad, its spokesman Michael Roche said. According to Opposition environment spokeswoman Jackie Trad, however, this is a significant shift in policy regarding resources extraction and will not benefit the state since it poses major environmental risks and has been undertaken without consultation. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is of the same opinion and says the proposal was shelved several years ago after it was concluded that the consequences for the environment would be severe. According to its spokesman Tony Mohr, the shale oil industry is still a major threat to the planet. He said he was really surprised by the government's plan to revive the shale oil industry because there are indeed several shale oil deposits across the state, but the oil extracted would have to be transported through the Great Barrier Reef channels, thus endangering aquatic life.
The Mackay Conservation Group (MCG) is also unhappy with the government's decision and believes that the issue needs a more careful approach.