: Icthys

Icthys

Tom McCrie
Northern Territory

In 1998, Japanese oil and gas giant Inpex acquired petroleum exploration permit WA-285-P, located in the Browse Basin off the north-west coast of Western Australia. Exploration in 2000–2001 revealed promising gas reserves. In 2008, Darwin was selected as the processing point for LNG (liquefied natural gas) from the field. In 2012, a final investment decision was made by the Japanese consortium, with preliminary construction works now commenced.

The Icthys Project (Icthys being the Greek word for fish) will see an estimated 12.8 trillion cubic feet of gas produced over an operational life of more than 40 years. More than 1.5 million tonnes of concrete coated pipeline (the longest in the southern hemisphere) will transport gas from the field located almost due north from Derby in the Western Australian portion of the Timor Sea, to the onshore processing plant at Blaydin Point on the Middle Arm Peninsula of Darwin Harbour, a distance of some 820 kilometres (see http://www.inpex.com.au/projects/ichthys-project/project-overview.aspx for a map).

Preliminary works include the beginning of an estimated $40 million in road upgrades to cater for additional traffic between Darwin and Palmerston, stabilising the ground at Blaydin Point and early works at the Accommodation Village to be located at Howard Springs. The village has been designed to accommodate 3,500 fly-in-fly-out workers at the peak of construction on the onshore processing facility.

In addition to the onshore works, dredging and rock removal to construct a safe shipping channel through Darwin Harbour to Blaydin Point, located at the far end of the Harbour, is set to commence in August 2012. Approximately 16.9 million cubic metres of dredge spoil will be moved to an offshore disposal site. The main environmental impacts from dredging will result from the release of fine sediments into the water. While expected to be mainly confined to the dredging areas, fine sediments will be transported by the tides into shallow coastal areas and are predicted to settle in some areas of mangrove vegetation.

Also on the proposed shipping route is an area of submerged rock known as the Walker Shoal which poses a navigation hazard to project vessels. Underwater blasting techniques may be required to remove this rock, causing some controversy in relation to the pristine condition of Darwin Harbour. If blasting is required, a fauna protection zone will be surveyed around the blasting area to minimise the likelihood of dolphins, dugongs and turtles and other marine animals being present within the zone when blasting begins.

The first LNG cargo is set for the fourth quarter of 2016.

TOM McCRIE is a lawyer in the commercial division of the Solicitor for the Northern Territory, Department of Justice.

(2012) 37(3) AltLJ 207
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