05/17/2010 - Australia on Monday said it would open more than 30 new offshore sites for oil and gas exploration, despite concerns from environmentalists that they could clash with marine sanctuaries.
Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said 26 of the 31 exploration areas were in Western Australia, which already has significant offshore energy projects, while others were in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
'Our energy security will be greatly enhanced by the opening up of new geological frontiers, reducing our dependence on imports,' Mr Ferguson said. 'Exploration in the areas under offer, some of which are in frontier areas, is a step towards achieving our energy security objective.' Mr Ferguson said Australia has a AU$16 billion (S$20 billion) trade deficit in crude oil, refined products and LPG, which is expected to rise, possibly as high as AU$30 billion by 2015.
The announcement means that companies will be able to bid for the right to explore the sites, which vary in size, with contracts to be awarded by May 2011 at the latest. But conservationists were concerned by the announcement, with the Pew Environment Group saying some exploration had been approved in areas which had also been earmarked as potential marine wildlife reserves.
'Pretty much all the areas announced today are right over the top of areas that the Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett is looking at for protection and that's because these areas are critically important for marine life,' the group's Michelle Grady told ABC Radio.
Read the full article, Aussie Offshore Sites to Open, on the Straits Times Web site.