Barrow Island is one of the most highly protected natural landscapes on the planet. It is also home to one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world.
The island, located 100 km off of the Pilbara coast, has been listed as a Class A Nature Reserve since 1910. This classification makes it one of the most protected types of land on the planet. Despite this, the region is recognised worldwide as a place where environment and industry co-exist.
The island is home to 24 native species found nowhere else on the planet. Bandicoots, wallabies and countless other critters happily roam the island, friendly because they have never known predators from mainland dingoes or human hunters. The animals also tend to grow larger than their counterparts on Australia’s mainland, since they don’t need to run or hide from predators.
The growing oil company on the island, called the Gorgon Project, is a liquefied natural gas and domestic gas development run by American company Chevron.
Interestingly, the island’s ecology remains essentially intact. Harry Butler, a consultant for Chevron, calls Barrow a “most remarkable place” that has not been subject to “the influences of the pioneers, the colonists, the farmers, the pastoralists, the city dwellers”.
Forbes named Chevron’s project, which is also the largest ever single resource development in Australia, the world’s 11th biggest oil and gas company as of 2015. But Butler says Chevron has still set world class standards for responsible mining in fragile environments.
The company sets remarkable quarantine procedures on the island, including shrink-wrapping and fumigating all incoming equipment, to stop mice, plant matter and other organisms from reaching Barrow’s ecosystem.
“For ordinary people, Barrow is a place where you can see what Australia was like before the coming of white men,” says Butler in a 2011 Chevron promo. The problem is that Australian’s aren’t allowed to visit the island.
Chevron has repeatedly denied requests from News Corp Australia to visit Barrow and witness the miraculous co-existence of nature and massive industry.
Western Australia’s Department of Parks and Wildlife, who control the A-Class reserved region that covers almost all of the 234 sq km island, have no influence on the matter. They say that any arrangements to visit the island must be made with Chevron directly.
Gorgon workers take immense precautions to avoid damaging the natural wildlife. The camps use dull orange lighting at night, to avoid disorienting any migrating turtles; sewage is buried deep beneath the ground to avoid contamination; speed limits are strictly enforced to reduce the likelihood that work vehicles will run over bandicoots or spectacled hare-wallabies that roam the island.
Chevron is determined to protect its eco-friendly reputation, despite the enormous expenses of doing so. The project has had huge cost blowouts in recent years, which last year increased nearly $20 billion.
Workers guess that the American company is investing in Gorgon on Barrow Island to show the world that big industry can coexist on an A-class reserve, and to prove that it can handle the same type of drilling in other highly protected areas like the arctic.
When asked about this, the company stated, “Chevron has proven that with proper management and the right workforce culture, developments the size of Gorgon and the environment can co-exist.”