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Great Barrier reef at risk from energy development

Fracking near the Great Barrier Reef? Say it ain’t so …

Environmental groups sue to block financing plans by U.S. Export-Import Bank

By Summit Voice

Conservation activists are suing to block the U.S. Export-Import Bank to finance a natural gas operation near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The groups claim the plan violates the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, which implements U.S. obligations under the World Heritage Convention.

The legal challenge is an effort to bock nearly $3 billion in financing for two massive liquefied natural gas facilities that could threaten dugongs, sea turtles, saltwater crocodiles and numerous other protected marine species within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

“The U.S. really shouldn’t be subsidizing new fossil fuel projects anywhere on the planet, but for the Obama administration to fund a project that will despoil a fantastic World Heritage Area like the Great Barrier Reef is unforgivable,” said Sarah Uhlemann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Dirty fossil fuel projects don’t belong in this world-famous marine sanctuary.”

The project in Queensland, in northeast Australia, involves drilling up to 16,000 gas wells in the Surat Basin, west of Brisbane, using controversial “fracking” techniques, construction of hundreds of miles of gas pipelines and two massive LNG processing and export facilities. The Bank is also reportedly considering financing a coal-export facility in the Great Barrier Reef as well.

“The Export-Import Bank has a sad history of funding environmental destruction around the world,” said Doug Norlen, policy director of Pacific Environment. “Ex-Im Bank should focus on renewable energy rather than projects that further the world’s addiction to fossil fuels.”

The LNG processing and export plants would be located within the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The Great Barrier Reef gained World Heritage status for its remarkable natural beauty, coral reefs and rare dugong and sea turtle habitat.

UNESCO, the international body charged with overseeing implementation of the World Heritage Convention, issued a report in June expressing “extreme concern” over the LNG projects’ impacts to the reef, noting that the reef may soon be listed as “in danger,” a designation made when activities of the host country or outside entities threaten a World Heritage Area.

The LNG projects will also affect several species protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, including endangered dugongs and threatened green and loggerhead sea turtles.

“Sea turtles and dugongs are already imperiled due to the fossil fuel frenzy now underway across Australia,” said Teri Shore, program director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “To allow oil companies to industrialize this critical nesting and feeding haven in the Great Barrier Reef will push these vulnerable marine animals ever closer to the brink.”

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