There have also been concerns about harm to the natural environment in and around Gladstone, which is near the Great Barrier Reef. Fish have been showing up in the harbour with lesions and infected eyes. Some dolphins have washed up dead, while others seem to have been driven far away from the harbour by the increased levels of noise.
There was also a scandal when millions of tonnes of dirty silt dredged up from the long-time industrial port – partly because of the LNG projects – leaked out of a thin enclosure meant to isolate it from the ocean. One government investigation, however, found no links between specific harbour activities and what was happening to wildlife.
It is still a glimpse at the type of concerns that are likely to arise when monumental projects take place in marine environments. Unlike some parts of the rugged B.C. coast, Gladstone already has a proud industrial history. Some locals feel the LNG companies have been good corporate citizens, but Mr. Eriksen, the anthropologist, suggests that the industry-driven growth has allowed the state government to pull back funding, leaving the city reliant on corporate largesse.
“They use engagement for marketing,” Prof. Eriksen says, “but don’t upgrade the roads.”
LNG companies, however, did contribute $10.5-million to the airport.
One other explanation for firms’ ability to push ahead in Australia is that rights for aboriginals are less entrenched than on Canada’s West Coast, where failure to consult with affected groups can result in legal challenges and costly delays.
Interactions between resource firms and aboriginal groups in Australia are governed by Indigenous Land Use Agreements, but vary greatly depending on the project, industry and particular companies’ desperation to get the project done. There is little obligation for much public disclosure.
In Queensland, LNG companies went the route of coal companies before them, favouring upfront payments, or fixed annual payments, to aboriginal groups rather than payments based on a percentage of proceeds. But there are indications that the cost of coal-seam gas pipelines, which is generally an upfront payment on a per-kilometre basis, has risen sharply in recent years as the LNG companies race to get projects completed.
Wally Ingra, a community elder who has worked in the energy construction business for decades, says aboriginal groups elsewhere in Australia have had more success than local groups around Gladstone. “They’re making massive amounts of money and nothing comes back into the community,” he says. “They’ll give us a sporting day. Oh, great. A sporting day.”
In British Columbia, some aboriginal groups have already endorsed LNG exports, as long as projects meet or exceed environmental standards. Still, opposition remains. For instance, members of the Blueberry River First Nations are upset because they have been unable to persuade the provincial government to protect 80,000 hectares of land from LNG-related drilling for natural gas in northeastern B.C.
Besides the global competition from Australia, British Columbia is in a continental race to export LNG.
B.C. LNG projects face a disadvantage compared with U.S. proposals that have a head start because some infrastructure is already in place, notably those in the U.S. South, near the Gulf of Mexico. In some instances, it will be a matter of converting American facilities originally designed to handle LNG imports so that they are instead reconfigured for exports.
Mr. Coleman, B.C.’s Deputy Premier who is in charge of the LNG file, says he recognizes the high stakes amid competitive pressures from Australia and the United States.
“LNG projects did their own thing in Australia and they found that costs got out of hand. Companies have learned that they don’t want that to happen in Canada, so there will be discussions here about how they can share certain things,” he says. “Our job is to make sure we’re globally competitive, which we are.”