Facilities Would Threaten Sea Turtles, Other Endangered Species

SAN FRANCISCO— Three conservation groups initiated a legal challenge today to the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s nearly $3 billion in financing for two massive fossil-fuel facilities in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef at Gladstone in Queensland. Construction and operation of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities will threaten sea turtles, dugongs, saltwater crocodiles and numerous other protected marine species within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Download the 60-day notice letter here.

“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 Export-Import Bank is a federal agency that funds international projects to promote U.S. exports that is currently approving financing — including direct loans — for two LNG projects in Gladstone, Queensland, in northeast Australia. The Australia Pacific LNG and Queensland Curtis LNG projects will involve 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.

“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 (Seaturtles.org). “To allow oil companies to industrialize this critical sea turtle nesting and feeding haven in the Great Barrier Reef will push these vulnerable marine animals ever closer to the brink.”

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

“Given the devastation of BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. should not be outsourcing the dangers of dirty oil and gas development to other nations by providing govnernment funding when it’s never finished cleaning up the mess here,” said Todd Steiner, Executive Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (Seaturtles.org). “In fact no new protections for sea turtles or other marine life have been put into place since the oil spill two years ago.”

The formal notice of intent to challenge Export-Import Bank’s funding of the LNG projects asserts violations of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, which implements U.S. obligations under the World Heritage Convention. The formal notice is a legal prerequisite before a case can be brought under the Endangered Species Act.