WA Government document shows Barrow Island at risk of “catastrophic” bushfire


WA Government document shows Barrow Island at risk of “catastrophic” bushfire

31 August 2013

published by www.heraldsun.com.au

Australia — FIFO hub Barrow Island is at risk of a “catastrophic” bushfire that could kill workers and destroy vital oil and gas infrastructure, according to a Government document.

The Department of Parks and Wildlife document says 50 years of fire suppression, since a 1960s blaze destroyed 90 per cent of the vegetation, has resulted in a massive build-up of highly flammable spinifex grasslands.

Meanwhile, the island has become the workplace of thousands of fly-in, fly-out employees in oil and gas including Chevron’s massive Gorgon project. But there is no island-wide bushfire strategy.

The document says there is increasing danger of a bushfire that would be “potentially catastrophic” and might cause injury, death and damage to oilfield infrastructure. It could also lead to the extinction of threatened species found only on Barrow Island.

The 202sqkm island, off the Pilbara coast, is WA’s second biggest after Dirk Hartog Island.

The DPW has called tenders for “independent fire management expertise” to provide advice for bushfire risk mitigation strategies and create a fire management plan.

Petroleum leases have covered most of Barrow Island Nature Reserve since 1967. Gas wells have also been established.

Chevron Australia, which operates an existing oil operation and the Gorgon gas project under construction on Barrow, says it has a fire management plan in place for the areas it is responsible for. It includes maintaining fire-breaks, evacuation plans and strategies to extinguish fires on its land.

But the DPW document raises concerns that there are no such plans for other areas on the island.

A DPW spokeswoman said a fire-management plan should include risk-reduction strat-egies, such as lowering the fuel load.

“DPW will develop its fire- management plan for BINR in close consultation with Chevron Australia to complement the company’s own fire emergency responses,” she said.

“As with any natural environment where there is vegetation, there is an inherent risk that fire could occur.”

Chevron has about 300 staff on the island for its existing oil and gas operation. But the workforce on the Gorgon project may go to as high as 5500 during the construction phase, dropping to 500 once the plant is operating next year.

A Chevron spokesman said the company welcomed additional efforts to protect the island’s environment and the safety of the workforce.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union state secretary Mick Buchan said the union would be monitoring the situation in light of the document.

“It has been 50 years since the last disastrous fire on the island, natural fuel has probably increased and there is equipment and pipelines which could create an even bigger disaster given the large number of workers on the island at any one time,” he said.

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