Friday, October 08, 2021

Kimberley fracking project's exemption from gas export ban sparks Conservation Council fears

Introduced last year, the change to WA's domestic gas policy prevents gas extracted onshore from being sent to the eastern states or overseas.

The only other exemption to the policy was given to the Kerry Stokes-backed Waitsia project, with Premier Mark McGowan defending the move on the grounds Waitsia was a "shovel ready" development that would deliver hundreds of jobs.

At the time the policy was changed, the Valhalla project being developed by Bennett Resources had been submitted to WA's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), with plans for six wells on Noonkanbah Station, near Fitzroy Crossing.

But a recent announcement by Texas-based Black Mountain, which owns Bennett Resources, revealed it had now been granted an exemption from the export restrictions.

It was the first application for a fracking project since the state government lifted a ban on the practice in 2018.

The latest EPA document, released on August 4, reveals Bennett Resources now plans to build up to 20 "exploration and appraisal wells" at 10 sites.

The exemption has upset the WA Conservation Council, with the group saying it went against what was promised when the moratorium on fracking ended.

"It was lifted after an inquiry found that any gas fracking would likely be only small scale and only for the domestic market, and therefore have very limited environmental impact because the size of those developments would be very small," Council director Piers Verstegen said.

"We raised concerns about that at the time and said that we didn't think that was accurate and that those fracking companies would be trying to build very large fracking projects to access the export market. "That appears to be exactly what's happening now."

Minister for State Development, Jobs and Trade, Roger Cook, said the exemption was granted because the project would help build gas pipelines to connect the area to the broader WA network.

"We've said to [Black Mountain] … if they need to export a portion of their initial off-take in relation to this in order to make the project successful, then we would be prepared to consider that," he told ABC Goldfields.

"But we've also said that that would be on the basis that they commit in the long-term to domestic gas agreements, but also that they build pipeline infrastructure to make sure that the rest of the Kimberley benefits from this particular development."

The government said the project would still need to obtain all relevant approvals, including environmental, before going ahead.

Black Mountain president Ashley Zumwalt-Forbes said the company had been negotiating with the WA government since the export ban was put in place last year.

"All parties came to the conclusion that to get this project up and running, we'd need access to a pipeline and would inevitably need to export at least a portion of the gas, " she told ABC Kimberley.

She said the company was still in negotiations over just how much of the gas extracted from the project would be reserved for the WA market.

With local and statewide environmental groups already gearing up to campaign against the project, Ms Zumwalt-Forbes said the company would be fully compliant with all state environmental requirements.

"Give us an opportunity to prove ourselves, prove that we're good operators and we are good stewards of the environment," she said. "We plan on doing right by the community, and certainly following and exceeding all requirements.


China turns to stranded Australian coal to combat power crunch

China is releasing Australian coal from bonded storage, despite a nearly year-long unofficial import ban on the fuel.

It comes as the nation scrambles to ease a power crunch stemming from a coal shortage, according to traders familiar with the matter.

The power crisis in the world's top consumer of coal is due to strong demand from manufacturers, industry and households, which has pushed prices to record highs and triggered widespread curbs.

An estimated 1 million tonnes of Australian coal had stayed in bonded warehouses along China's coast, uncleared by customs, since Beijing's unofficial ban was imposed last October, a trading executive said.

"Some of the Australian coal stuck at Chinese ports started to be released at the end of last month … though many of those [cargo loads] had already been diverted to markets like India," the trader, based in eastern China, said.

A second trader said the release from bonded storage would start this week.

Top economic planner the National Development and Reform Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While China has urged top miners to boost output and told power operators to step up coal imports in "an orderly manner" to ease the supply squeeze, it has refrained from directly resuming imports from Australia, formerly its number two supplier after Indonesia.

However, at 1 million tonnes, or the equivalent of just one day of China's coal imports, the stock's release would do little to quench the market's thirst for coal.

"Without resuming Australian coal imports, the supply shortage will be here to stay for some time, as it takes time to boost domestic production after nearly five years of output curbs," a third Beijing-based trader said.

"I am not optimistic. The shortage will last at least through the fourth quarter and possibly till after February or March, when the heating season ends.

Exports from other key suppliers, such as Russia and Mongolia, had been curtailed by limited rail capacity, while shipments from Indonesia had been hindered by rainy weather, traders said.

That led utility operators such as eastern China's Zhejiang Energy to bring in the first thermal coal imports from Kazakhstan on Monday, following its first imports of US thermal coal in June and July.

China imported 197.69 million tonnes in the first eight months of 2021, down 10 per cent for the year. But August coal imports rose by more than a third on tight domestic supplies.

To ease the supply strain, China State Railway Group pledged on Tuesday to allot more freight capacity to ensure coal inventories were sufficient for 14.4 days of use at 363 power plants with direct rail access, state media said.

Abhinav Gupta, a dry bulk shipping analyst at Braemar ACM Shipbroking in Perth, said his company could confirm the discharge of Australian coal in China.

"Based on our cargo-tracking system, we can see about 420,000 metric tonnes of Australian coal discharging in China in July and August 2021, which was loaded in 2020. In addition, another 55,000 metric tonnes was discharged in July 2021, which was loaded in May 2021," Mr Gupta told the ABC.

However, Mr Gupta said it was unclear how the Australian coal had been used, adding that China was looking at multiple sources overseas. "It is unclear if it has been sent to warehouses for stockpiling or being released to end users, such as power plants," he said.

"China has been pushing other suppliers to meet its demand. However, there are challenges, such as rains in Indonesia, and Russian coal being more in demand in Europe."

A DFAT spokesperson said clearance of thermal coal of Australian origin through Chinese customs is managed by China and is conducted through private contractual arrangements.

"Australia's coal exporters are competitive and reliable suppliers of high-quality coal to global markets," they said.


Roundup owner Bayer wins US court case as Australian farmers say they'll stick with local advice

Australian farmers say a decision by a US court in favour of Roundup maker Bayer has no bearing on their use of the weedkiller.

Industry group Grain Growers said it wasn't concerned with legal proceedings in other jurisdictions, but would follow the advice of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

"It's really about what the APVMA says, and it says glyphosate is safe to use when you follow the recommended usage instructions," Grain Growers chair Brett Hosking said.

Glyphosate is a key ingredient of Roundup, which is banned in some countries but widely used on Australian farms.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Bayer, the owner of Roundup maker Monsanto, won a trial in California after a jury found that the herbicide was not the cause of young boy Ezra Clark's lymphoma.

Ezra's mother, Destiny Clark, alleged her son developed the cancer after he was exposed to Roundup, which she had used in the garden at the family's home.

The finding could be appealed.

It is the first case the company has won after losing several high-profile court battles that have cost the company billions of dollars.

"The jury's verdict in favour of the company on causation brings this trial to a successful conclusion and is consistent with the assessments of expert regulators worldwide, as well as the overwhelming weight of four decades of extensive science," Bayer said in a statement.

"While we have great sympathy for Ezra Clark and his family, the jury carefully considered the science applicable to this case and determined that Roundup was not the cause of his illness."

Biotech lobby group CropLife Australia described the result as a "win for science".

"The jury has considered facts and evidence and come to the same conclusion as every pesticide regulatory authority in the world — that glyphosate is safe to use and does not pose a cancer risk to humans," chief executive Matthew Cossey said.

"It's human nature that when someone is diagnosed with cancer, they want to find an answer to their question — 'Why me?'

"However, accepting a false but convenient answer as opposed to finding out the actual cause serves no-one.

"While we have great sympathy for anyone with cancer, it's important that these debates continue to be undertaken on science and actual data so that real causes of cancer are identified and addressed."

Australian class action in the works
Last year, Bayer agreed to spend more than $US10 billion to settle almost 100,000 lawsuits alleging that Roundup caused cancer.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn is preparing an Australian class action against Monsanto, representing individuals diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

The suit alleges the company was negligent when it sold Roundup.

Reflecting on the US decision, National Farmers' Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said no chemical compound had been studied as much as glyphosate.

"There is an extensive, international body of scientific work spanning 40 years and 800 studies that affirms that glyphosate is not a carcinogenic, and more precisely, that it does not cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma," Mr Mahar said in a statement.


Homeschool registrations rising in Australia, alternative education advocates say mainstream schools need a shake-up

Homeschooling is understood to be the fastest-growing education sector and alternative school advocates say it shows mainstream schooling needs a shake-up.

Ms Blundell — who lives in northern Tasmania — said she and her husband decided to switch to homeschooling because their daughter was not coping well in a school environment.

"She's actually got an eating disorder called ARFID — which stands for avoidant restrictive food intake disorder — and that means that she has a phobia of eating," Ms Blundell said. "It's an anxiety-based food disorder, so she gets really stressed out and she refused to go to school."

Aria also has suspected autism.

Ms Blundell said her daughter struggled to get the help she needed due to large class sizes and because she was good at "masking her conditions".

"The school system was developed back when the world was a completely different place and, as the research is improving, I think the schools are being left behind," she said.

"While they are understanding and getting better, I don't think they're up to speed."

In Karalee, an outer-western Brisbane suburb, Shelly Lausberg's 15-year-old son, who has autism, struggled to return to school after COVID-19 lockdowns in his home state of Queensland.

"Our school then contacted us to say that they couldn't support his level of anxiety with how many other children they had," Ms Lausberg said. "He was at a private school … we contacted six other private schools who could not take him because he needs learning support, and they have no room in their learning support."

Ms Lausberg said her son could not attend a public school due to past experiences of bullying and the flexi-school would not accept him. "I guess I felt that homeschooling was my last choice," she said.

Ms Lausberg said her family had registered with a home education program. She said it had been challenging but her family had learned to make it work and her son was now thriving.

"I still work full time, but I don't work on a Monday, so I do school with him on a Monday and then I have two other people who come and help me on other days," Ms Lausberg said.

She said mainstream schools needed to look at how they helped all children. "Even if your child doesn't have autism or any extra needs, 27 or 30 people in a class is just too many."




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